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Pensioners try virtual reality at Balgowan House care home in Saltwood, Hythe

By Molly Mileham-Chappell

Care home residents in Kent have thrown themselves into the world of virtual reality as a new way to explore the world from their comfy armchairs.

The technology is now embraced as a therapeutic activity for older people, especially those with mobility problems or who are living with dementia.

Balgowan House, close to Saltwood village green, near Hythe, have trialled VR headsets in order to help improve residents’ quality of life by allowing them to ‘travel’ to hot-spots around the world or meaningful places from their past.

Resident Jean Smith
Resident Jean Smith

Home manager, Ann-Marie Miles, wanted to see if it was an activity the residents would engage with, and she was amazed at the response.

She said: "For older people, and especially those who find it difficult to leave the home due to mobility issues or dementia, the world can often seem like it’s shrinking.

"Virtual reality gives them back the ability to travel the world, enjoy completely new experiences, or revisit places that bring back happy memories.

"A member of staff sat with each of the residents, encouraging them to lift and turn their heads and asking what they could see.

"Physically, the activity helps to improve movement, as well as boosting mood and encouraging the residents to reminisce."

Resident Anne Bull
Resident Anne Bull
Resident Philip Biscombe
Resident Philip Biscombe

One of the residents, 87-year-old Daphne Gee, is bedbound and was particularly excited by the concept.

Ms Miles continued: "Daphne was able to see the moon and stars, an experience she hasn’t had for a long time, and it brought back a special memory of visiting the planetarium with her mum.

"She also spotted a plane and was talking about places around the world which she would like to visit.

"It was heart-warming to see, and Daphne said it left her buzzing with excitement for the rest of the day."

Resident Anne Bull and manager Ann-Marie Miles
Resident Anne Bull and manager Ann-Marie Miles
Resident Daphne Gee and manager Ann-Marie Miles
Resident Daphne Gee and manager Ann-Marie Miles

Another resident Anne Bull, 78, thought her underwater VR experience was ‘marvellous’, especially as she never learnt to swim: "It felt so real. It made me so happy and I feel lucky to have had a go and recommend everybody to try it."

The house was originally built over 100 years ago as a family house but now provides personalised nursing, residential, dementia and respite care for 40 elderly people.

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