If there was ever a time to intervene and introduce technology into residential aged care – also known as nursing homes – it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on older people (aged 65+) in aged care: as well as being more likely to die from the virus, older people in aged care are more socially isolated than ever before with non-essential visits banned to mitigate the spread. The impact of COVID is likely to continue for months, if not years, for older people in aged care and their families. And, even before COVID-19, the day-to-day lived experience of aged care was often challenging, with research continually showing that residents tend to become inactive and sedentary, spending their days sleeping, watching TV, waiting and simply doing nothing at all.
One way of improving the lives of people living in aged care is through the use of technology-based activities. Emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, and more established social technologies, such as video conferencing tools, have the power to connect people living in aged care to the outside world. These connections can provide social and emotional enrichment for people whose lives are often constrained by mobility impairments and the organisational structures of aged care homes (including, recently, limitations on who can visit). Virtual Reality (VR) provides opportunities for residents to virtually leave the four walls of their aged care home, reconnecting with past valued memories (e.g., reliving a honeymoon in Paris) and checking off “bucket-list” items they thought they would never achieve (e.g., sky-diving, bungee-jumping or jet-boating), re-engaging with the world in ways they never thought was possible due to mobility and health problems.
This project – a collaboration between researchers from QUT, Griffith University, the University of Melbourne and La Trobe – has been funded by a philanthropic research grant from Facebook. We will integrate VR technologies into six Australian aged care facilities to (1) find ways of better socially connecting residents with each other, staff and their families during this COVID-19 pandemic; and (2) provide older aged care residents with creative, novel and intellectually-stimulating leisure activities – ensuring daily life is exciting, rather than mundane and monotonous.
The project is designed to drive transformative change and encourage wider technological uptake through the aged care sector – and critically, we are using digital, visual and arts-based research methods (e.g., digital stories, participatory photography, drawing, infographics and cartoons) to document and widely disseminate (i) the transformative impact of using these technologies in aged care, from the perspective of residents, their families and formal carers; and (ii) share practical tips from providers, developing tip sheets and infographics to guide aged care facilities through the process of integrating smart devises and VR into their practice. We will develop a “Transformational Toolkit” – freely available online – outlining how to implement VR – virtual reality – into aged care, assessing “what works and doesn’t”. What makes this project unique is that we will use creative-arts methods – including short digital stories, photography, narrative, poems, cartoons, sketches, and drama – to describe and disseminate the experience, challenges, and benefits of implementing VR into aged care.
PROJECT CHIEF INVESTIGATORS
Prof. Evonne Miller, QUT Design Lab
Assoc. Prof Glenda Caldwell, QUT Design Lab
Assoc. Prof Jenny Waycott, University of Melbourne
Assoc. Prof Raelene Wilding, La Trobe University
Dr Steven Baker, Griffith University
Dr Barbara Barbosa Neves, Monash University
Leonie Sanderson – VR Project Manager
Dr Abbe Winter, QUT Design Lab – Project Manager
Caleb Lewis – Playwright
Anthony Franze – Research Assistant
Alan Burden – Research Assistant
Dr Shane Pike, QUT Design Lab
Dr Sue Cake, QUT Design Lab