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David Attenborough and Dinosaurs are Helping Hospice Patients at Rowley Regis Hospital with VR

A West Midlands healthcare Trust is looking to help hospice patients get away from it all, all thanks to the wonders of virtual reality (VR). 

With the ‘second coming’ of the immersive technology, powered by the likes of Facebook owned Oculus, Google with their smartphone powered devices and Taiwanese firm HTC’s Vive, the idea of using VR as a treatment has become one health authorities and MedTech firms around the world are continuing to investigate the applications.  With everything from education and training for practitioners, to pain management and helping deal with psychological disorders for patients being looked into.

As part of the work being done at Rowley Regis Hospital’s Heart of Sandwell Day Hospice, the team have acquired two standalone Oculus Go head-mounted displays (HMDs) set for its patients to help them be entertained  and allowing them to ‘leave’ the confines of the hospice to travel to places they hold dear in their memories .  The headset can also be used for relaxation sessions, utilising both VR programs and 360-degree video experiences to help manage any anxiety or sleep problems they had been having, and helping them achieve many of their day hospice goals.

Claire Roach, an Occupational Therapist working with the hospice says:  “We’ve decided to use virtual reality to help our patients with advanced care planning and also to improve their quality of life and general wellbeing. So, we’re looking at issues such as managing anxiety and helping them achieve long held goals – say, if they wanted to go to a specific country or experience something they’d otherwise be unable to. With VR that closed door is opened for them again.”

Among the experiences hospice patients can experience are examples from the series Wonders of the World and GreenerGames’ Nature Treks VR as well as relaxation app Guided Meditation VR. Encounters with dinosaurs can be had thanks to tie-ins with the Jurassic World films and Walking With Dinosaurs television series. Though one of the most popular among users at the hospice is David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive, which features the 92-year-old broadcaster and natural historian and examines the life found in the natural wonder off the coast of Queensland.

“It’s wonderful,” explains patient Daphne Barnes.  “I’ve always been terrified of water from when I was about five or six-years-old, but when I was using the VR I had no fear. Even though it seemed to cover me I could still get my head above the water, I could see the fish swimming in the water around me, I could see the coral, I could see the islands and the sky. It was so lovely – I just can’t find the words to describe it.”

The second of the hospice’s Oculus Go headsets were funded by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which runs Rowley Regis Hospital, but the first was actually a donation from Oculus themselves, which operates as a division of social media giants Facebook. Claire Roach thinks that as the technology continues to develop, further investment in VR by the Trust could be a possibility; especially considering what it can do even now.

“Areas such as pain management, or using it to help relax patients who are distressed, helping treat phobias and trauma, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I see the future of VR in healthcare as something that is very important and I think there’s scope for a lot of development there.”

Daphne sums up: “I would recommend it to anyone. It’s taken away my fear, and I’ve been afraid of that for a very long time.”