Residents of Downing House have been experiencing the benefits that virtual reality (VR) technology can bring for those living with dementia and other impairments.

The home has been building a relationship with Manchester-based company, The VR Doctors, which uses VR technology to help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of older people and alleviate the effects of isolation, depression and cognitive impairments.

Downing House residents have been enjoying regular hour-long sessions, during which they are invited to don the state-of-the-art VR headsets and hand sensors and travel anywhere in the world – and indeed beyond – with a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

The home’s Activities Coordinator, Rubina Hewitt, explains, “The VR Doctors got in touch with us a few months ago and offered a free demonstration of their technology. We are always looking for some out-of-the-box activities for our residents to try, so I took them up on their kind offer.

“Three of our residents took part in the demo. They were fitted with the headsets and allowed to explore wherever they chose.”

Each of the residents who took part in the trial had a particular set of circumstances that, The VR Doctors claim, make them particularly susceptible to the benefits of using the technology. One is living with dementia, one has limited mobility, and the other is 105-year-old Ada Louis, who has a sight impairment.

"Wow, I couldn't believe how clear my vision was! This session gives me the chance to see places I've always wanted to visit."

Ada, Resident at Downing House

Rubina says, “I was blown away by home much all three enjoyed it. The benefits were immediately apparent, so I had no hesitation in booking a regular session so that all of our residents could benefit from the VR experience.”

The monthly sessions been a tremendous hit and have seen residents virtually visit places far and wide.

Many have chosen to explore exotic locations, such as Angel Falls in South America and the Great Wall of China, and they are also given the opportunity to learn about the history there.

Some have enjoyed a short boat trip, plane journey and even a rollercoaster ride, with the hand sensors providing the sensation that they are actually on the move.

The technology also presents the opportunity to visit unreachable locations including outer space and the bottom of the sea, as experienced by resident Bernard Mole, who was able to name all he different marine wildlife he came across.

Bernard said, “The amazing level of exothermic reality this session brings is beyond belief; I can't wait for the next session!”

Others residents have stayed closer to home and revisited some of their old favourite places.

“More familiar destinations, such as Blackpool or France, have been popular choices. It was interesting for the residents to see how much these places have changed since they last visited, which in most cases was several decades ago. Reaching these locations through the headsets often brought back fond memories of family holidays or day trips with friends, and encouraged a lot of conversation, story-swapping and memory-sharing between the residents.”

Rubina, Activity Coordinator at Downing House

Video courtesy of BBC North West Tonight.

The VR experiences have also proved attractive for residents who would normally opt out of group activities at the home.

Rubina continues, “If our residents are living with conditions such as dementia, depression or a disability, VR provides an escape and a distraction from their everyday lives and gives them the opportunity to see places they never thought they would have the opportunity to go.”

Oscar Harrison, Business Development Manager at The VR Doctors, explains that Abbeyfield was an obvious choice when it came to finding people who would benefit from their technology.

He says, “Our recent VR session at Downing House, an exemplary care home within the Abbeyfield Family, was a testament to the extraordinary impact this technology has on the lives of older people.

“By leveraging VR technology, we are able to combat social isolation and loneliness, stimulate cognitive function and memory, and promote emotional well-being in a truly remarkable way. It provides an avenue for users to explore new horizons, revisit cherished memories, and ignite their imagination, all within a safe and immersive environment.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Abbeyfield for their unwavering commitment to providing innovative care solutions and for embracing the potential of VR technology for their residents.”

Rubina added, “The VR Doctors have created a real buzz and we always look forward to their visits.”

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