How virtual reality is improving end-of-life care

In the UK, terminally ill patients are being transported from the hospice to other worlds.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Virtual reality is not just for showing off the latest games and inventions. The technology has found a purpose in the healthcare industry as part of improving hospice and end-of-life care.

When someone is terminally ill, it may be inevitable that the individual will, at some point, go to a hospice or treatment center for end-of-life care or, at the least, to a respite center to give home caregivers a break.

However, in the UK under a creaking, strained, and underfunded National Health Service (NHS), sometimes these facilities may be suffering themselves from a lack of budget to make these stays as comfortable as they could otherwise be.

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, taking someone away from their home at such a stage can be a difficult transition.

To make this process a little less heartbreaking, local charity hospice Loros, which provides hospice and home care to roughly 2,500 terminally ill individuals across Leicester, Leicestershire, and Rutland, UK, has launched a new project which uses virtual reality to enhance end-of-life care.

The idea is to help those who have limited mobility to experience life outside of treatment and give them the chance to go back to places in their past which hold fond memories, as well as experience new areas beyond the hospice and home.

As shown in the video below, 70-year-old John, who is diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND), is trying out the headset equipped with a video of Bradgate Park. This kind of technology can give patients a little more joy in their lives when perhaps it matters most.

"Since being diagnosed with MND, we can get out but I can't spend a lot of time out of the wheelchair, so being able to have these experiences through the glasses is really good," said John. "It's almost as good as the real thing."

It's a reminder that while many of us obsess over whether or not the latest mobile device will have a headphone jack or an impossibly thin shell or not, advances in technology can also provide far more important experiences.

Loros is currently working with a VR company to produce more films and hopes to commission new films that other hospice providers will be able to use in their own virtual reality services.

"Research suggests that the brain accepts the virtual world within 20 seconds after which the experience becomes all-absorbing," Loros CEO John Knight commented. "We recognize that some of our patients are often restricted to where they can go due to their illness, so we wanted to help give them the opportunity to still enjoy life wider than their restrictions allow, through virtual reality."

Five biotech inventions the US is not ready for (in pictures)

Samsung and Start VR offer virtual reality as therapy for cancer patients:

Editorial standards