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“VR makes me smile again” – emotional, virtual “field trips” for hospice patients

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Cancer patients at the end-of-life have been going on emotional VR field trips – to “breathe in” the mountains, and visit loved seaside spots once again…

A kind-hearted VR film maker is giving cancer patients the chance to go on virtual field trips, so they can smile, laugh and feel “freedom of life” from their hospice beds.

Filled with compassion for the less able, Ben Malone created VR trips of the German mountains, the Peak District and even parts of Thailand so that patients, who are confined to a Stafford hospice, can “smile again” and take in the world’s most beautiful scenery. 

The trail, known as Project Vae, has had a huge emotional response from patients who say they’ve been given a chance to once again experience the beauty of nature, and the feeling of being active. 

Some patients even showed up for a virtual trip to Cornwall with beach towels, sun cream and swimming attire, because they were so excited to be able to visit the seaside together again.

Happier and calmer 

Patients commented that the trial had given them a topic of conversation with their partners, and had made them feel happier and calmer than they did before putting on a VR headset. 

Others said that it moved them to joyful tears as they got to “see the mountains in the distance” or “see all around” in their chosen setting. 

“I’ve been touched by happiness”

One patient commented: “What I can see is something I’m never going to do in real life again, I’m never going to go to the Peak District again, I’m never going up a mountain. So this helps me to feel like I am.”

He added: “You’ve (Ben) brought something into my life that I never had. I’ve been touched by the happiness of being up there, and being in those places.”

Project of compassion 

Project Vae was set up in partnership with Keele University and the NHS Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, with a view to opening up a new world to those who are confined to a hospice or care home.

The patients, who are in Katherine House Hospice in Staffordshire opted into the trial and carried out questionnaires before and after. All reported improved feelings of wellness and happiness as a result of the VR experience. 

In an interview with Health Tech World, Ben Malone spoke of how he hopes to improve the lives of more patients with his VR experiences. He even said the 7-week trial was the “best 7 weeks of my life.”

Ben added: He said: “The Katharine House Hospice (KHH) study came about through my own sheer determination to provide some kind of evidence that my “virtual field trip” videos and concept could have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing.

He added: “I took the participants to Germany, Scotland, Cornwall, The Peak District, Liverpool Albert Dock and Thailand and it’s safe to say the study was a HUGE success.”

Heartwarming memories 

Ben reminisced about one couple in particular, who were so excited about their virtual trip to Cornwall, that they showed up in summer hats, sunglasses and even towels. 

“This for me, was such a wholesome and heartwarming moment, to see two people so excited to experience one of the videos that they made the effort to get dressed up, meant a great deal to me,” Ben added. 

“It was one of the best 7 weeks of my life, to have something I had worked towards for so long, not only work, but have such a profound effect on the participants, meant everything to me.”

Funding Project Vae

The study itself ran for 7 weeks, the first week being an introductory session followed by six VR “field trip” video sessions. A total of 11 people took part, eight patients and three partners of patients who came to share the experience. 

Through VR technology, patients were transported to the tallest mountain in Germany, or to the British countryside, and even to Thailand in the realistic, 360 degree visits. 

Ben had contacted the hospice back in 2018 to see if they would be interested in his idea, but it was a stretch of time after that for him to raise the funds for the pilot. 

Eventually, funding was secured from The National Lottery Community Fund. 

Ben continued: “ It took me a very long time after our initial talks for me to actually raise the funds to be able to conduct the pilot.I managed to secure £9960 from The National Lottery Community Fund to run the pilot, which was used for equipment and the production of 4 more VR field trip experiences. 

During the time from the initial hospice meeting and the pilot commencing I had also approached Keele University to see if they would like to be involved. 

“I decided that I wanted to add some validity to the pilot and actually study the mental health benefits. 

He added: “I am very glad I did this, as if I had run the study alone, who on earth would have respected the results of a study run by a man with no formal mental health qualifications?”

VR for patients is just beginning

The trial was just the beginning for Project Vae. The platform, which is scheduled for release in 2023, will be a Netflix style application that gives care institutions access to our growing library of virtual reality experiences. 

Firstly, they will purchase our hardware bundle, once that arrives they will be able to pay a monthly or yearly fee to access the VAE app. 

The VAE app will host all of our 360° video experiences as well as give care staff the ability to remotely control the VR headsets. It also allows for simultaneous and syncronised playback across multiple devices. 

The care staff simply choose a video and the viewer/s gets to sit back and enjoy, no need for the participant to navigate the complex VR headset menus.

“VR opportunities are endless”

Ben concluded: “My personal opinion is that I think VR can help massively in loads of different ways. 

“Not just in what I am working towards with Project Vae but across the industry. There are so many potential use cases for VR with elderly and vulnerable people, genuinely the opportunities are endless. 

“I hugely respect and support any individual or company that is trying to help this often forgotten-about demographic.

“I think VR will be used in this demographic for social, pain management, entertainment, fitness and mental health benefits.”

Don’t miss…

“VR could reduce NHS waiting lists at all levels”

Emmy-nominated journalist and former head of BBC VR  Zillah Watson speaks to Health Tech World about the future of Virtual Reality in depression and mental health…


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