Revolutionary virtual reality trial boosts mental health of hospice patients

A virtual reality trial involving patients at a West Midlands hospice has improved the mental health of over 75 per cent of its participants.

Project organiser Ben Malone and senior nurse Melanie Mottram.
Project organiser Ben Malone and senior nurse Melanie Mottram.

Cancer patients at Katharine House Hospice in Stafford took part in an innovative new trial where they wore state-of-the-art headsets to go on virtual field trips all over the world.

Now, research from the University of Keele shows that over 75 per cent of the patients involved believe the programme has made them feel less anxious.

Ben Malone, who created the project, said: "The participants absolutely loved it and the research backs that up.

"I was surprised how fast they acclimatised to the tech, as it's relatively new technology and an older generation, but they'd all acclimatised by the end of the first session. I was surprised at their willingness to adapt to something new.

"It's been a long road for me, it's taken me four to five years to get to this point. It's amazing really. I've worked for years to get here and I couldn't have anticipated just how well its gone."

Ben Malone is a virtual reality producer and founder of the non-profit community interest company, Project Vae, who ran the project with Katharine House.

The non-profit company is striving to use virtual reality headsets to help improve the mental health of patients within the care sector.

Patients in the six week trial at Katharine House enjoyed virtual trips to landscapes as diverse as Germany, Scotland, Cornwall, The Peak District, The Royal Albert Dock, and Thailand.

The videos ranged from six to 24 minutes long and were filmed like vlogs with Mr Malone acting as a tour guide, to allow the participants to feel like they had a companion with them on the adventure.

They were also given flight-like experiences connected to a drone during some of the videos, allowing the patients to see the landscapes from an aerial perspective.

He added: "I think it has the potential to be adopted by care homes and hospices all over the UK. It could really change a lot of people's lives.

"Some of the patients have been looking at the same four walls for 12 months. We have the potential to take them to places all over the world and give them that experience, of taking them somewhere they otherwise might never be able to go."

The study was funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and the research was in partnership with Professor Saeed Farooq at Keele University and Dr Rashi Negi at The Midlands NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Rashi Negi said: “I am delighted with the result that this study has achieved and truly believe that the potential uses of this technology are limitless.

"I am hoping that the next stages will be rolling out this technology in larger groups of patients at hospices but also in many other patient populations such as patients suffering with dementia and other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety in care homes, in their own homes and on geriatric wards.

“This study perhaps has even more relevance for today and for the future, given the current Covid pandemic that unfortunately, has caused increases in anxiety, depression and social isolation.

"I am truly grateful to Ben for approaching us with this innovative idea and for his dedication and commitment to develop this idea further.”

The trial has proved so successful that the team now hopes to roll out the project on a larger scale so more people can experience the joy felt by the patients in the trial.

As one patient said: "I take 20 odd tablets a day, plus lotions and potions, I am fed up of it all.

"I come in here and this changes everything."

And another added: "When I leave here and I go home, I'm a happier person."

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