Hospice Savannah’s VR Program for Patients

Hospice Savannah, in collaboration with the Savannah College of Art and Design, recently launched a program where they used virtual reality to help their hospice patients. The program is called “VR for Good”. Together, the students of SCAD, their professor; Teri Yarbrow, and Dr. Kathleen Benton, Hospice Savannah President, were able to bring significant positive changes in the lives of Hospice Patients.

In the program; “VR for Good”, virtual reality is used to remove the unimaginable pain and anxiety that these patients go through. These VR experiences are also designed in a way that they also provide an escape to the hospice patients, from all the negative feelings and emotions caused by being isolated. These experiences are also known as VR therapy and help the patients both, physically and emotionally.

So far, the students have designed 3 VR experiences; hot air balloon experience, an underwater adventure, and farm experience. While talking about these experiences, Yarbrow said;

“Some are more engaging and some more meditative and life-enhancing. ‘Apples and AntHills’ [virtual farm visit] is one that involves motor exercises, but there are all different kinds of ways that you could incorporate that at a level patient can do. ‘Nalu’ is directed towards pain relief as very passive. You can move your hands and see bubbles around them, or look at whales, dolphins, and turtles. The ‘Swimming with the Dolphins’ experience allows the patient to be a diver and facilitates swimming. You can hear the dolphins around you, you’re moving and there’s soothing music.”

VR therapy is something that is being done for quite a while now and it’s time we make them fun and interactive as well.

“I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which is a neurological condition, and I have personally experienced VR therapy. I’m a certified master scuba diver, and when I was first diagnosed with MS I thought I would never be able to dive again. Being able to create a VR experience for people who thought they would never get to scuba dive, travel or roast marshmallows again is an amazing and extremely rewarding experience”, said Maya Peleg who is currently a junior year student at SCAD and helped in creating the underwater experience, or as it is known as “Nalu”.

The program was funded by The Daniel DeLoach Memorial Fund, created in memory of Benton’s brother in 2017. Benton’s brother himself was a patient of Proteus Syndrome and relied a lot on technology his entire life. Furthermore, he was also a student of Industrial Design in SCAD. Talking about his experience with VR, Kathleen said;

“I can remember when the first VR came out and it helped him with anxiety and mentally just to escape the imprisonment of his bed and his body. Proteus Syndrome had a stronghold on him everyday pain- and mobility-wise. He was trapped, and VR gave that escape to him.”

Efforts are being done to further expand this VR experience for hospice patients. Along with the SCAD students, the hospice is planning to offer the patients “bucket list” trips to some of the most famous tourist spots in Savannah. Some of these spots include Tybee Island, Broughton Street, and Forsyth Park.

While talking to Hospice News, Benton said;

“I see growth in the VR field as being a big deal. I want to be a conduit for other hospices across the nation not just to offer the bare bones minimal that we need to have to be reimbursed, but all of the things that a patient needs. We should all have this right alongside our music and massage therapies. VR should be happening to offer patients something beyond their limitations.”

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