BUCKINGHAM Palace, Bamburgh Castle and Beamish Museum were just some of the sights enjoyed by Stockton care home residents in a single afternoon.
Virtual reality (VR) technology allowed the elderly residents to travel to some of the country’s most recognisable landmarks – all without leaving the comfort of their armchairs.
North East based social enterprise Reminiscience held the VR therapy session at Mandale House Care Home, on Acklam Road in Thornaby.
The residents’ likes and interests were taken into account before they were given a VR film tailored to their personal choices.
The films are shot in 360 degrees to make the experience more immersive. Headsets are then placed over the residents’ eyes so they can glance in any direction to get a different view.
Ashley Stockeld, a developer at Reminiscience, said: “Before we begin a session we talk to the participant and find out what they like.
“If they have been a keen bird watcher, we can load short films onto the VR headset showing different kinds of birds, which can be seen even by those with poor eyesight.
“We know elderly residents like to see images of their own towns and the places they liked to visit in their earlier years.
“Initially, we filmed around Newcastle and Northumberland and then we expanded and started filming across Teesside, at the Hartlepool headland, the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough, the beaches at Redcar and Seaton Carew, among other places.
“The improvements in VR technology allow participants to see a 360-degree picture, providing a really immersive experience.”
Resident John Walker, a keen twitcher whose deteriorating eyesight has hindered his lifelong hobby of watching the birds outside, was astonished when he put on the VR headset. He exclaimed: “I can see the birds!”
Another resident and dog lover Margot Morris was delighted to watch the antics of labrador puppies. John Leckenby, a former sailor, experienced a film about tall ships sailing into Blyth in 2016.
And Irene McBride took a virtual trip to London to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, announcing: “I’ve been there in person, you know.”
Sarah Robinson, activities coordinator at Mandale House Care Home, said: “I watched the film from Beamish Museum. It felt so real, like you were actually there, walking on the cobblestone streets.
“When the residents used the VR headsets, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience, talking about what they saw for a long time afterwards.”
Michael Allen, home manager, added: “It’s great to be able to bring new technology to the home for our residents to enjoy. Seeing their response has been amazing.
“The fact the idea for VR therapy sessions and the films are all from the North East makes it even more special.
“There seems to be a belief that older people aren’t interested in technology but this really isn’t the case, as the way they’ve embraced the VR sessions shows.”