Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Riverside Lifelong Health Piloting Virtual Reality Therapy Program

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Riverside Lifelong Health (LLH) is piloting a program to introduce virtual reality (VR) goggles as a therapeutic and recreational resource at its long-term care communities, beginning with residents who are unable to leave a facility or have limited travel abilities.

“We wanted to help patients and residents who had wishes to visit a destination to do so,” said Lisa Kirby, executive director of Riverside Health System Lifelong Health Nursing Facilities. “Patients and residents that wish to see their home or travel to a dream destination no longer have the ability to do it physically, and so, thinking through the technology available today, we found that we could still help them go there using virtual reality.”

The VR program has launched at Warwick Forest and will roll out to all facilities as team members complete training this spring. Hospice providers will also be able to incorporate the goggles into home-based care.

“When we first began to look into VR, we found that there is potential for it to be a valuable tool, especially for hospice patients, to relieve anxiety, decrease pain, and help patients stay curious as they can now travel to places they have always wanted to see,” said Kirby. “The Riverside Cancer Center has already implemented VR goggles for their patients during chemotherapy treatments, so we had a baseline and support for implementation. Now, virtual reality goggles are available in all our Senior Living facilities to residents, no matter what the facility, and they have access to the same, high-quality technology.”

By slipping on a lightweight headset, residents and patients can enjoy immersive 3D videos of different places or activities. Selections can be based on an individual’s past hobbies, interests, or career, thereby drawing on happy memories. For example, a person who loved fishing might step onto a moving boat with ocean views and sounds of lapping water or beach tunes. An animal lover could play with a purring kitten. A formerly avid traveler could have another adventure abroad.

“Virtual reality goggles provide visual and auditory experiences of a location,” said Kirby. “Greg Gernon, music therapist at Riverside Cancer Center, has recorded and provided a library of his own videos available on the goggles. The goggles have access to other videos of national and international destinations so that residents that had intended to visit or used to visit them can still see them.”

Warwick Forest hosted a virtual reality event on June 22 where some of the residents got to experience the virtual reality headset.

“For one of our residents, we took her in a virtual submarine exploring the ocean,” said Kirby. “This interested her, but she stated she couldn’t make much sense of it. So, we then decided to take her on a virtual reality roller coaster. She was enthralled during the experience. She repeatedly stated, “’Wow, I sure got my money’s worth out of this machine.’ She was swaying from side to side, dodging obstacles that appeared to be coming to her. She couldn’t stop talking about it. Afterward, she expressed that it was a great experience.”

Victor Hudleston, an administrator-in-training who is leading the VR effort, stated that the technology provides a fun and calming escape, and in the case of negative behaviors, often is very effective for redirection.

“We are unsure if there are any ‘proven’ benefits to VR, but we hope it can help with pain relief and emotional health and enjoyment,” said Kirby. “While this is our hope, we also caution that VR goggles are not for everyone. Certain conditions may be contraindicated. For patients and residents to safely use the device, our interdepartmental team is involved to determine the appropriateness to participate in the activity based on a patient’s individual health and needs.”

In the future, LLH may look at adding VR options for facility tours and support groups.

“We’re excited that there are so many potential avenues to benefit our residents and their families,” said Hudleston.

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