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Edinburgh Hospice Patients Can Now Travel The World in Virtual Reality

End-of-life care patients can participate in breathtaking VR experiences. Virtual reality technology is enabling patients at a hospice in Edinburgh to visit the farthest corners of the globe right from their own wards.

Since 1977, St Columba’s Hospice has been offering palliative care for end-of-life care patients.

Six hospice patients from the Boswall Road address became the very first group in Scotland to witness the life-changing effects of virtual reality. They were given the opportunity to virtually visit their places of interest, and locations which were completely new to them.

State-of-the-art VR headsets were used to deliver the experience. In one case, a patient was able to visit Jerusalem, a place which he had dreamt of visiting his entire life.

Another session helped a 101 years old woman to take a trip back to her childhood Darjeeling home, and also embark on a first-time journey through the waters of the Amazon river.

The experience was quite received by the hospice patients as they could revisit their memories of happiness and reminisce their youthful lives, in addition to being able to visit completely new places.

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The group of hospice patients was also able to embark on a vivid underwater adventure experience. Swimming in the sea with the aid of virtual reality, each of the patients was able to go deep into the wreckage of a sunken ship. They were able to experience colourful fishes swimming overhead and even came close to a gigantic whale.

The vibrant and colourful experience stirred joyous emotions among the patients, and they were evidently in awe of the VR offering.

Viarama, a VR social enterprises based in East Lothian, was the company that designed and offered the experience for the hospice patients.

Dr. Erna Haraldsdottir, Senior Lecturer in Nursing at the Queen Margaret University (QMU), is also the St Columba’s Hospice Director of Education and Research.

According to her, the virtual reality experience makes participants feel like they have been taken to another world. She stressed the importance of such an experience in fostering positivity into their mundane and not-to-bright reality.

Haraldsdottir explained that the patients felt free and enthusiastic about revisiting their places of interest. Being able to do so also made them experience emotions that they had felt earlier in their lives. She hinted that further efforts can be made by the company to conduct research to identify the key benefits of using this technology.

She believes that the proof of VR being utilised as a potent tool for palliative care was minimal, as no published research work exists in this regard. With more research, the benefits of long term health and wellbeing can become more evident. Research may be conducted to understand if anxiety and pain symptoms are eased with technology.

Interestingly, one of the six patients was so overwhelmed by the end of her session, that she started crying.

There are plans to subject another group of 20 patients to the VR experience in the future.

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