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Seniors in long-term care home escape reality with immersive program

Ninety-five-year-old Gloria Howe, a resident at IOOF Seniors Homes in Barrie, experienced something she could never have imagined in her lifetime.

"I'm seeing things I've never seen before. There's an airplane beneath me. I'm as close to heaven as I'll ever get," said Howe.

While donning a pair of virtual reality goggles, Howe described a feeling of floating.

"It was a nice feeling. And every time you looked, you saw something different," said Howe.

North Simcoe Muskoka Specialized Geriatric Services (NSM SGS) created the virtual reality program to give seniors immersive experiences.

"It offers an escape from reality and an opportunity to see maybe somewhere they travelled on a honeymoon or somewhere they went on a vacation. Or if they enjoy animals, getting to see them at the San Diego Zoo," said NSM SGS Recreation Therapist Jenna Davis.

Staff said the pandemic changed how long-term care homes integrated technology.

The IOOF in Barrie has been using virtual reality for the past few months and staff said it's been a huge success.

"We have one fellow who is in love with Alaska. He's just over the moon with Alaska. And with virtual reality, we're able to bring him to Alaska, and it really opens the world up to our residents who are unfortunately stuck in long-term care," said IOOF Recreation Facilitator Hayley Goodchild.

Aside from the fun component, NSM SGS also provides devices to long-term care homes, like Apple AirTags, smartwatches and Google Homes, to ensure seniors' safety and help connect them with loved ones.

"The wearables are definitely an opportunity for family members to keep kind of tabs on the health of their loved ones if they are living independently. I know that some of the Apple watches can track if you fall, can track your blood pressure," said Davis.

Meanwhile, Howe said she is excited to try virtual reality again, noting there's one specific thing she wants to see.

"Scenery, where there are no houses. Just the stars. Just like you're floating," she said.

The IOOF offers its residents a virtual reality session once a week, but staff hope to increase that in the coming months once they get more equipment and train more staff on how to use it. Top Stories

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