Virtual reality in health and social care

Edna Petzen, Residential Forum member


I was
impressed to see at a recent event the progress that is being made in the use
of virtual reality in health and adult social care. As is the case in most other
sectors, advancement is still in the early stages, but it was encouraging to
see more organisations embracing the opportunities afforded by the use of this

reality is the term used to describe a three dimensional, computer-generated environment
which can be explored and interacted with by a person using virtual reality
equipment to look around the artificial world, move around in it and interact
with virtual features or items.

It is
extensively used in gaming and in recent years has been developed and adopted
more widely by industry.

of the main uses of VR in health and social care has been for teaching and
learning situations, whereby the interactive experience of the person within
the virtual world provides a safe environment in which to learn and practice
how best to handle real-life situations.

training simulations, different scenarios can be created and re-enacted to
allow people to learn and practice their skills in a controlled environment.
The immersive nature of virtual reality can be similar to the real world, to
help people connect and give context to their experiences.

advantages of experiential learning are well known. Back in 2015, whilst
working for a national care provider, before virtual reality was commonplace, we
used experiential learning to train the workforce. ‘Homemade’ adaptive
equipment and tools were used to give care workers an experience of what it
felt like to support older people with various health conditions and ailments.

underwent a series of training scenarios to put them into the ‘resident’s’
shoes’. They experienced what it was like to be partially sighted whilst being
supported to eat and drink, how it felt to be lifted in a hoist, and so forth.
Reflection on the experience enabled staff to learn the difference between good
and poor practice.

overwhelming response from the staff who took part in the training was that
they felt more able to understand the perspective of others and that through
their own experience could genuinely provide better care, that was sympathetic
to the needs of the individual, having gone through a similar situation

progression in virtual reality creates opportunities for organisations to replicate
training situations based on scenarios to help enhance service delivery, change
practice and improve people’s lives.

The Virtual
Dementia Tours have been giving people a stimulated sense of the condition for
a number of years. Using bumpy insoles placed in shoes, sensory gloves, headphones
and dark glasses to give people an experience of what dementia might be like.


Body Simulation using their range of lifelike human ‘bodies’ has developed a
notable advancement in medical skills training. The ‘bodies’ are based on scans
of real people that feature lifelike veins, hair, articulated mouth for airways
management, etc. The ‘bodies’ have revolutionised training in healthcare and
although they are not technically virtual reality, they provide an unrivalled
opportunity to create realism to medical training.

Flix REELS (Reality Enhanced Experiential Learning Scenarios), part of Flix
Films Ltd
have been working with organisations within social care to use
interactive experiences through 360 vision and sound to recreate emotional
real-life training programmes for organisations. Their work with Royal Trinity
Hospice for example, has made use of the advantages of virtual reality to
support experiential learning.

within the sector, armchair travel is becoming an additional activity on many
care homes events calendars. Somerset Care, Countrywide Care Homes and many others
have embraced virtual reality to create reminiscence activities and experiences
for residents, who would otherwise not be able to participate in such experiences
due to mobility issues or health conditions.


travel transports residents to a holiday destination of their choice, whether
it was an old family favourite, or a new destination to explore. Residents
travel to locations and experiences around the world as if they were there in
person. Such experiences have been found to greatly improve people’s quality of

life experiences can be a positive way to learn and remember. As we’ve seen
above, reality enhanced experiences can lead to new and exciting experiences
that can positively impact people’s lives, enhance their well-being, knowledge
and skills.

With virtual
reality still in its early stages of development within the health and social
care sector, it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time, as the
technology becomes more affordable and widely available.

Published by Residential Forum

The Residential Forum is to promote the achievement of high standards of care and support for children and adults living in residential care and nursing homes, supported housing, residential schools and colleges, hospices and hostels. It contributes to improving the quality of service to the public. Members of the Forum are people of standing and experience drawn from the public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as some who can speak for service users and carers.

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