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Game on, Aged Care – how Virtual Reality is improving our older generations’ actual reality.

How can VR gaming tech enhance Aged Care resident experiences?

To paraphrase a youthful trope, ‘don’t hate the game’. While we often criticise gaming culture for de-socialising young people, gaming technology might actually save another generation from social isolation.

Some recent innovative applications using immersive gaming technology designed specific to Aged Care are currently doing the rounds.

We can see clearly now the game is on…

In a presentation by for Vision Australia, US vision scientist Professor Frank Werblin demonstrated his Irisvision. Irisvision uses a Samsung smartphone and gamer-style VR headset to help people with conditions like macular degeneration to see clearly.

Werblin describes the technology as ‘life-changing’, pointing out how socially debilitating low vision is. With users of Irisvision able to see people, expressions, identify faces, as well as engage in other social activities easier, the technology has exponential benefits for the visually impaired.

“Low vision(can make) you socially isolated and I think this brings back vision but it also brings back life to people with low vision.” Professor Werblin says.

IrisVision kits are on the market now, available in Australia through Vision Australia.

Traveling without moving…

On the more ‘gamey’ side of the tech-spectrum, back in July, Uniting Care (in conjuction with Samsung) revealed a VR program that gives residents the chance to experience unlived dreams using tech.

Uniting facilities in NSW and ACT are currently piloting the immersive technology and it’s been a real hit among residents lucky enough to wander the virtual worlds. With the program, residents are able to live out bucket list dreams, choosing from several VR experiences to immerse themselves in.

Among experiences requested in the five centres that piloted the technology, residents have been visiting hometowns. One resident virtually travelled to Vancouver – without moving – for the first time since arriving in Australia as a younger man. Other experiences included standing under Redwood trees, and orbiting Earth in outer Space.

“Using virtual reality technology in this way can give dementia residents and older Australians new adventures which they could not otherwise achieve due to mobility or health problems.” Says Nick Brennan from Uniting.

On the flipside, using software created unique-to-aged-care, the technology also allows carers to experience a ‘day in the life of a resident with dementia’, giving them a deeper understanding of their patients.

Avatar…

And locations aren’t always the canvas; in other programs it’s the characters that are tweaked. A similar program, The Highway of Life, designed and developed at Melbourne University uses software to allow residents from different physical locations to meet in a virtual space in the form of their own personally designed ‘avatars’.

Avatars are created by the participants, which then enter a virtual room and talk with other residents/avatars who are in alternate real life locations. Regardless of their physical abilities in real life, The Highway Of Life allows them to talk, gesticulate and even pick up objects through the ‘bodies’ of their avatars.

The avatar experience promotes socialisation that otherwise may not have happened given the debilitating situations of some residents.

Dr Steven Baker, project leader says, “We know for some older adults they struggle to get out and about, or they may be geographically isolated from family and friends, or living in a residential aged care facility.”

Dr Baker and the research team from the Microsoft Centre for Social Natural User Interfaces continue to explore the technology and Baker believes by 2020, VR gaming tech could be connecting residents to friends, family and each other in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. And the scope of this technology is exponentially life changing for residents and the broader community.

From where we can see things –as the gamers would say– it’s VR FTW! (For The Win!)

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