But innovative technology could be one of the keys to reversing this trend.

Evonne Miller, a professor of design psychology at QUT in Brisbane, has undertaken research into how activities such as virtual and augmented reality can help provide social and emotional enrichment for people living in aged care, and says the technology has “lots of potential and opportunity”.

“The reality is, for too many people when they enter aged care, it can be too difficult to leave,” Professor Miller says.

As part of the research, VR headsets and software were used to help residents, who commonly have mobility impairments, virtually leave the confines of their aged care home to undertake activities such as trips to Paris, African safaris and swimming with dolphins.

“Virtual reality headsets are relatively inexpensive now, maybe $500, but if you integrate into the leisure program inside aged care — alongside bingo and aerobics and yoga and swimming — you can actually have a virtual reality experience that does indeed take people elsewhere,” she says.

But Professor Miller says implementing the technology in aged care homes is not without its difficulties.

“One of the challenges we had was too many aged care facilities are not designed with the future in mind, so things like accessing wi-fi — we tried to Chromecast inside and we couldn’t do that.”

Overcoming limitations

It’s a challenge Meanjin/Brisbane man Che Turner hopes to overcome with a new social enterprise that uses immersive reality to transport participants to exotic locations including Central Australia and the French Alps — from the comfort of an air-conditioned van.

Mr Turner was inspired by a similar set-up he saw while working in the aged care sector in the UK several years ago.

VR in aged care

Colin never strayed far from his rural hometown until he ended up in aged care, but he’s now having virtual experiences so real he feels as if he can reach out and touch the worlds he’s immersed in.

He noticed the positive impact of virtual train trips — in which participants sit at a table made to resemble the interior of a carriage and watch scenery pass by on a large-screen television — had on residents.

“It builds anticipation [for participants], so your brain sort of gets the same endorphin rush of, ‘Oh, we’re going on a holiday, we’re doing something exciting,’ that it would do for someone that still has the ability to travel. That was one thing that I really noticed; it was a talking point throughout the whole nursing home.”

He had long wanted to try something similar here and says his eureka moment came while he was pondering the ongoing success of a non-profit organisation that provides mobile laundry and shower services to people experiencing homelessness.

“I used to work next to their office in Brisbane when I was with another aged care provider and I’d walk past every day on my lunch break and think ‘what a brilliant idea’.

“Then I put the two together and thought, ‘Well, if they can do it with washing machines, why can’t we deliver a service in a van that does train journeys? Why don’t we create a vehicle that can enable people to travel that don’t have the mobility to?'”

Getting the project on track

Mr Turner says coming up with the idea of transposing the virtual train journey concept into a fit-for-purpose van was one thing, but making it an immersive reality was another.

He knew train experiences were already available in some nursing homes, with limitations.

“With the train experiences when they’re in nursing homes, they’re just [shown on] the one TV and you do get the feeling that you’re just looking out of the window, and part of the challenge was, ‘How can we make it more immersive?'”

That process involved refitting the interior of a van to resemble a train carriage, installing two 50-inch monitors on each side to simulate windows, and five computers with custom-written software to seamlessly play the vision between the screens.

The footage of the journeys — which include the English countryside and the Ghan, in Central Australia — was submitted by members of online train forums.

“We welcome everyone on board, we sit down, we’ve got coffee-making facilities inside and we serve high tea, so when they sit down at the table, it’s a full first-class dining experience, with white tablecloths and silver cutlery.

“We generally start the conversation with, ‘When was your last holiday?’ and that’s a real conversation starter and from there, conversation continues about different train journeys the participants have been on.”

The service made its debut at a Brisbane aged care home late last month and Mr Turner says he has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback.

“This is a passion project and I work Monday to Friday so we only can do it on weekends at the moment, but the response has been incredible; most of the comments are people didn’t expect this, they didn’t think it was possible.

“I mean, at the end of the day, it’s a van with a few TVs in it and it’s just incredible how that can stimulate so much joy, happiness and awe.”

This article was first published by Daniel Johnson at ABC Lifestyle. Read the original article here.