Virtual becomes reality for Abbeyfield’s Falmouth residents

Residents at Tresillian House, Falmouth, are enjoying the newest virtual reality (VR) technology, visiting new and familiar places and memories at a touch of a button without leaving their home.

Residents at Tresillian House, Falmouth, are enjoying the newest virtual reality (VR) technology, visiting new and familiar places and memories at a touch of a button without leaving their home. 

The Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD) team at the University of Plymouth (UoP) has collaborated with Abbeyfield Tresillian House to conduct a groundbreaking six-week-long trial examining the effects of technology on the health and wellbeing of older people.

The GOALD team have been visiting Tresillian House to introduce the residents to ROVR, a state-of-the-art VR walker and headset, which transports the user to a place of their choice. Popular choices include seafronts, familiar streets and museums, and the team hope to demonstrate the positive impact that the regular use of VR technology can have for older people on their mobility, strength and balance. They will also gain valuable feedback to aid the development and production of this remarkable technology.

Leonie Cooper, from the GOALD team, explained, “It really touches me how excited the residents get. It’s not just about what they see, but about what they hear as well. They have commented on the birds singing and the trees moving in the wind. It’s really nice to be able to take them to places that they may not have been before, or may not be able to access any more.”

Early signs indicate that the use of the ROVR equipment is having an equally positive effect on the residents’ mental health, by enabling them to virtually visit places where they have made happy memories in the past, and to make new ones.

Resident Joyce Penfold was one of the first to try out the ROVR, choosing to take a virtual trip to the seaside in Godrevy, Hayle, to see the lighthouse and have a paddle in the sea. She was so enamoured with the technology that she even convinced the GOALD team to visit and let her have another go at her 103rd birthday party, which was held at Tresillian House on 1st April.

Joyce said, “I found it very strange and different at first, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve seen cities, waterfalls, the sea – and I very much enjoyed it. The young women from the University of Plymouth were excellent, they made me very comfortable.

“Usually the only time I go out is when my daughter takes me out, and the furthest we go is just a few miles, for a coffee perhaps and a good old chat! The trips on the walker made a nice change but I don’t have any desire to go see places further abroad just yet!”

Joyce’s daughter, Maria Blagden, said, “I wasn’t totally surprised because she does embrace everything that’s new. I think she was over 70 when she took her first aeroplane flight, so nothing puts her off.”

Dr. Hannah Bradwell, Digital Health Research Fellow for UoP’s GOALD project, has been working in partnership with Vicky Gillow, Abbeyfield’s Community Engagement Manager, to bring the trial to Tresillian House.

Dr. Bradwell said, “We’re really interested in the use of technology to support physical activity for older adults, and for us this technology has a lot of potential to that regard. As people walk on the treadmill, they get to explore the virtual worlds. Having a range of places to be explored creates the motivation to be active.”

Vicki said, “It is wonderful to see the level of engagement and interaction as residents used the ROVR and headset. The majority of residents were happy to try the walker and shared their impressions with one another. There has been a lot of joy and laughter so far and some wonderful experiences.”

About the University of Plymouth

The University of Plymouth is renowned for high quality, internationally-leading education, research and innovation.

With a mission to Advance Knowledge and Transform Lives, Plymouth is a *top 50 research university with clusters of world class research across a wide range of disciplines including marine science and engineering, medicine, cybersecurity and psychology. A three-time winner of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education, most recently in 2020 in respect of its pioneering research on microplastics pollution in the oceans and its impact on the environment and changing behaviour, the University continues to grow in stature and reputation.

It has a strong track record for teaching and learning excellence, and has one of the highest numbers of National Teaching Fellows of any UK university. With over 18,000 students, and a further 7,000 studying for a Plymouth degree at partner institutions in the UK and around the world, and over 140,000 alumni pursuing their chosen careers globally, it has a growing global presence.

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