Social isolation and loneliness can be harmful to both mental and physical health. They are considered significant health and wellbeing issues in Australia because of the impact they have on people’s lives.
Older people are at risk of social isolation and loneliness particularly if they live alone, and many have felt the absence of family and friends during COVID-19 restrictions.
St Joseph’s forward planning
In April 2020, while National Cabinet was considering a lockdown for residential aged care homes, St Joseph’s Aged Care in Lismore was busily expanding its range of leisure and lifestyle activities to help combat the isolation, fear and potential loneliness that might follow.
They purchased additional tablets and computers, they introduced Zoom and FaceTime and Skype. They installed Netflix and Foxtel. They employed more leisure and lifestyle staff to run more puzzles, quizzes, happy hours, singing, bingo, craft lessons and exercise classes.
When lockdown and full visitor restriction came into play, nurses were setting hair and no birthdays went by without a cake and a party. Because of extensive planning, residents were not shut off from one another, and remained connected with family, friends and the world, through the Internet.
SilVR Adventures’ VR solution
Despite their best efforts, St Joseph’s staff found days become long and people began running out of new experiences to share with one another. They were looking for a creative, innovative solution.
St Joseph’s reached out to SilVR Adventures, provider of a VR-based enrichment experience and communication solution to aged care and retirement communities that helps reduce isolation and drive social engagement among older people.
SilVR’s headsets gave St Joseph’s residents the opportunity to put the restrictions of COVID-19 behind them, as they travelled the world, swam with dolphins, or took a trip to the moon. They could also visit their childhood homes and villages. During these guided tours, they could chat with their friends to cement the experience.
They could also watch a movie together with others in the virtual cinema, attend a café, or just have a chat with other participants, all of whom are represented with a life-like avatar.
Up to 40 participants could participate simultaneously, with no need to be in the same room or even the same city.
These adventures were followed up with ‘Back To Reali-tea’ sessions, a wonderful way to prolong the conversation and social engagement with other participants.
SilVR’s experiences have been a win for the residents and a win for the provider. Helping residents overcome isolation and loneliness with an easy-to-use product that requires no outside facilitators and adds to their quality of life, means everyone benefits.
The highly immersive experiences can be matched to residents’ experiences and backgrounds, by utilising the product’s extensive library of 360° virtual tours, adventures and films, so it adds to consumer-centred and consumer-directed care.
During lockdown, the VR activities played a role in helping to combat social isolation, loneliness, boredom and potential depression, and they were so well received and beneficial, St Joseph’s is still holding them weekly.
SilVR Adventures with St Joseph’s Aged Care (Lismore) was a Finalist in the innovAGEING Enhancing Consumer Experience Award 2020.