You are here

Virtual Reality: Helping Patients Fulfill Wishes

Mary longed to see the ocean again. Her sister promised they would make the trip just as soon as Mary felt strong enough to travel. Yet Mary’s strength never returned.

Comments

Be the first to comment on this article.

Virtual Reality: Helping Patients Fulfill Wishes

Mary longed to see the ocean again. Her sister promised they would make the trip just as soon as Mary felt strong enough to travel. Yet Mary’s strength never returned. As she declined, she knew without anyone saying a word that the opportunity to leave her room at Greenhaven Health and Rehabilitation Center had passed. 

The members of Mary’s Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG) team recognized her deep disappointment and brainstormed ways Mary could experience a beach trip without leaving her room. That’s when HPCG chaplain Pete Overcash threw out the idea of virtual reality, a suggestion met by many puzzled looks. Overcash explained that, as the father of two young boys, he had heard all about the virtual reality headsets used with Play Station video games to generate realistic sounds and 360-degree imagery.

The team’s research revealed there were, in fact, countless applications that might enable Mary to reach her end-of-life goal and be a resource for other HPCG patients as well. A moderately priced headset was purchased, and several free phone applications downloaded.

Overcash could hardly wait to visit Mary again. As he sat beside her, he asked, “How would you like to go to the ocean today?” Demonstrating the placement of the virtual reality headset, he told her that once it was connected to his cell phone, she would have a 360-degree view of the sky and the ocean, along with the sounds of breaking waves, seagulls and ocean breezes. Smiling broadly, she exclaimed, “If you can pull that off, it would be amazing!”

With the headset in place, Mary slowly turned her head from left to right, up and down. “This is so amazing,” she repeated often. “I keep hoping to see a dolphin swim by.” When the headset was removed, the two sat together, discussing the experience and reminiscing about beach visits in years past. As Overcash prepared to leave, Mary asked if she might visit the ocean again on his next visit. Overcash quickly responded, “Of course, but maybe on the next trip you can swim with the dolphins!”

As Overcash was leaving Mary’s room, the daughter of another HPCG patient inquired about the headset. Upon hearing the explanation, she asked if Overcash might visit with her father, James Locklear. Initially Locklear shared he wasn’t too keen on technology; however, the mountains and the woods had always been places of encouragement for him, places he had long since given up seeing again. Locklear told Overcash he would like to give the headset a try.

On Overcash’s next visit with Locklear, he arrived with the headset and a phone application featuring a 360-degree view within beautiful wooded area, complete with the sounds of rustling tree branches, a running stream and crickets.

After the experience began, Locklear was silent for minutes at a time, prompting Overcash to occasionally ask, “You okay?” Eventually Locklear would respond with an awed, “Oh yeah. . . Oh yeah.”  Smiling, Locklear’s daughter said, “You might not get your headset back.”  At the close of their session, Overcash gently removed the headset. Locklear laid his head back and said, “That was as cool as cool gets!”

As patients near the end of life, deeply held hopes and wishes often unfold. Through complementary therapies like art, music or horticultural therapy, HPCG team members help patients find meaning and enjoy the day at hand. Virtual reality has become one more unique way to fulfill patients’ wishes at the end of life.  

Submitted by: Elizabeth Keri, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro

View/Add Comments +

Be the first to comment on this article.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.