Care home residents on Anglesey are being transported back in time with the use of virtual technology to enhance dementia care.
Residents at Gwyddfor Residential Home in Bodedern, near Holyhead, are being taken on a whirlwind journey back to the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 while sitting back and relaxing in the comfort of their favourite armchair.
The home has acquired a new 3D film and seven special goggles which places the viewer in the midst of an authentic British street party marking the historic occasion.
The film, produced by thewaybackvr.com, has been so popular that residents are now asking for more 3D experiences to satisfy their newfound love of virtual reality adventure.
The use of the VR technology has been praised by Care Forum Wales, the body that represents nearly 500 care homes and domiciliary care companies, as an innovative way of providing reminiscence therapy.
According to the home’s joint owner, Glyn Williams, a former RAF soldier and commercial pilot, it was proving to be a big hit with the residents.
“The virtual reality system has been phenomenal – we use it constantly. Interactive technology is becoming indispensable. It keeps people’s minds active and literally turns back the hands of time.
“I’ve wanted to bring virtual reality here for four years now but had to look at how I could do it practically and cost-effectively as VR headsets are expensive. Google Cardboard allows us to experience virtual reality in an affordable way by using smartphones with the appropriately downloaded apps.
“The residents absolutely love it. When one of them is watching, suddenly everybody wants a go.
“Virtual reality is really taking off and is going to be a great asset for dementia care in the future. The residents really feel like they are there taking part in the street party and it helps them to reminisce in a way that no other platform could achieve.”
The residents certainly agree. Quiet relaxation time has now become a series of “oohs” and “aahs” as residents venture into another world.
Patricia Claire Aspin, 72, from Cheshire said: “I really felt like I was there and I could feel the presence of the people. I remember having a street party. We had one house on our street that had a TV and everyone would gather to watch events.”
Madge Griffiths, 88, a grandmother of five from Gwalchmai, said: “It’s fantastic! It brings back lots of happy memories. We had fish sandwiches at school to celebrate and then we had a party the village hall.”
Mair Williamson, 92, from Anglesey, added: “It’s lovely to see the Coronation again. I remember my mother organising all the food, I helped make sandwiches with all the other ladies on our street. It was a big party and we had a fantastic time.”
The “Wayback” virtual reality project launched last year and aims to help dementia sufferers by creating films that trigger memories from the past.
The team recreates historic scenes using authentic locations, language, props and costumes. A new film is due to be launched this year focusing on England’s World Cup glory in the summer of 1966.
Gwyddfor first recognised the power of interactive technology in 2014 when it purchased a £6,000, 52-inch interactive display which has now become the focal part of the home.
Residents can play air hockey or roulette on the over-sized tablet, which can be laid flat like a table, or alternatively watch films, take part in quizzes or participate in other interactive games – regardless of their physical health and mobility.
The home has also hosted casino and horse racing events to make the most of the screen, which was part-funded through the North Wales Social Care and Wellbeing Improvement Collaborative.
And this month, Glyn and his team ordered a robotic cat from the US which is a version of dementia-friendly technology first developed in Japan.
“It has artificial intelligence and is designed for people with dementia,” explained the 54-year-old who runs the home with his wife of 35 years, Mary, 53.
“It reacts to how people stroke it and interact. There’s been such a huge, positive response in the dementia community about this one that we wanted to bring it on-board.
“Everything we do here is designed to provide dementia care through play and IT is a fantastic means of doing this. No one is excluded because IT is available to everyone.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure how our elderly residents would interact with IT but in reality they are far less inhibited than the average adult because they’re simply not afraid of breaking it.
“We never tell anyone in the home, staff included, “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” because as soon as you do that you begin to build up their inhibitions. I’m not bothered if anything gets broken, what’s important is people are able to use it without being frightened of it blowing up!
“I’m proud to be making a difference.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, congratulated the team at Gwyddfor Residential Home for continuing to push the boundaries of innovative dementia care and enhancing the wellbeing of its residents.
“The beauty of virtual reality is that it engages residents who don’t usually like to participate in group activities or find it difficult to communicate and socialise with others,” he said.
“It doesn’t exclude anybody and is a great way of entertaining residents who have mobility problems. It really does bring the outside world into the care home. Gwyddfor deserves recognition for its hard work and commitment to improving lives.”