Virtual reality (VR) technology has been used to transport the residents of Bryn Y Cae and Tŷ Cwm Ogwr Care Homes on wildlife adventures, space flights and visits to cities across the world, from the comfort and safety of their own armchair, thanks to a creative wellbeing project delivered by Awen Cultural Trust and Bridgend County Borough Council.

The project, which was funded by Welsh Government’s Integrated Care Fund ‘Connected Communities’ Grant – administered by Bridgend Association of Voluntary Organisations – worked with Cardiff-based Rescape Innovation to also create 12 personalised VR experiences for residents with dementia, aimed at unlocking memories and provoking conversations.

VR technology is becoming increasingly popular within the care sector as reminiscence therapy, taking residents to places of interest and importance which otherwise they would be physically incapable of visiting. The films are shot in 360 degrees to make the experiences highly immersive, and residents use headsets, looking in any direction to get a different perspective.

The use of VR allows care homes to tailor content that is specific to each resident. One Bryn Y Cae resident to benefit from this creative wellbeing project was 105-year-old Dolly (pictured), originally from the Netherlands, who particularly liked the VR garden experience, as it reminded her of a time when she cared for a disabled child at a residential home.

Penny Griffiths, Manager of Bryn Y Cae Care Home, said:

“It has been great to be able to bring new technology into the care home for residents to enjoy. Seeing their response has been a joy to watch especially when it was so real to them. I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction we were going to get from the residents with dementia, but it was wonderful. They were completely immersed in the experience, and for them to feel they were out in the garden and interacting with the flowers, after being isolated due to Covid for so long, was just lovely to see.

“Our hard-working staff have also benefited from the technology, by using the headsets to enjoy a short ‘escape’ to a tropical beach whilst taking a break from their caring duties. Whether it was 5 minutes of listening to the waves, or staring at a blue sky, this sort of mindfulness and sense of calm was particularly important during the lockdowns when no one could consider a holiday abroad.”

Richard Hughes, Chief Executive of Awen Cultural Trust, said:

“The comments I have received about this project have been heart-warming and uplifting, and demonstrate that people of all ages can enjoy the social and mental wellbeing benefits provided by virtual reality, not just those who typically use new technology. It has been heartening to hear how these experiences have allowed the residents to reminisce with their families and each other, and enabled them to become more engaged and involved, particularly during these challenging couple of years. We are grateful to the funding support from Welsh Government and BAVO, and look forward to working with Bridgend County Borough Council to roll out this project to other care homes in the future.”

Councillor Jane Gebbie, Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help, added:

“Reminiscence therapy is proving to be particularly effective for people with dementia, and this is a fantastic example of how we can utilise modern technology to help them to unlock treasured memories and engage with others.”

Click here to view a video about the project.