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Swedish Council Evaluates Virtual Reality Technology for Vulnerable Care

Handicapped and elderly citizens in a south Stockholm municipality, are set to gain access to virtual reality-based tools as the initial step of a drive to use the technology extensively for mental health treatment.

The first group of vulnerable citizens is Huddinge municipality residents who reside in several designated care units. The virtual reality technology instance will result in more fluid communication between care workers and residents and generate experiences to aid with mental health concerns. The staff members have performed a small-scale evaluation pilot involving three residents. They have plans to carry out a much larger virtual reality test with 60 citizens if they are interested in participating.

Dana Hagström, development leader, is confident that the VR-based initiative will generate the interests of most people approached for participation. Annika Sefborn, Section Manager at Huddinge’s department for social and elder care, said that the project will be tried on two vulnerable citizen groups – the elderly and people with cognitive disabilities. The pilot program will involve elderly citizens residing in need-specific housing units, and youngsters in the area with cognitive disorders and special needs.

Huddinge is no stranger to unorthodox treatment methods, as several staff members who used to help out residents regularly possessed technical capabilities. They used to communicate with autistic behavioural disorder-affected residents through the World of Warcraft game. This mode of communication proved to be better using this method.

VR can help people with mental health issues. Image source: arpost.co

Carers’ jobs are generally treated as temporary, and staff members who worked with residents are no longer employed in these jobs.

Currently, the department leads want to focus on VR technology as they are enthusiastic about how digital technology tools can be used for enhancing caregiving, as well as, the residents’ life experiences. According to Hagström, the care unit’s digitisation journey began long back, and they were using the World of Warcraft method with certain residents. This helped to breed trust amongst the residents and led to them allowing the care staff into their homes.

Hagström remarked that some home aid staff members were gamers, and hence had the required set of technical abilities. On their departure, the use of the game ceased. She emphasized that such a development served as inspiration for the team to outdo their own efforts with better solutions. According to Hagström, the conversation went into the territory of what VR could achieve, but only casually at the start. The team’s previous World of Warcraft experience served as a reference point for future development. Though the idea originated about six years back, the project’s trial started only a year back.

Huddinge municipality approached a company that could help it test out VR glasses, at the start of 2019. The next step was a challenge, as they had to obtain funding to initiate the trial, which is not an easy prospect due to the lack of substantial scientific research work. After a council member showed interest, the program was started. The staff members tested out the VR equipment at first, which was followed by a small-scale test on some residents. Later, tests were also carried out on handicapped residents and people with mental health issues.

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