Edmonton General resident John Miller with a virtual reality headset
From petting puppies to visiting childhood neighbourhoods, Covenant Foundation donors are helping residents have joy-filled virtual experiences from the comfort of their home at Covenant Health’s Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
The headsets, which have been in use since August 2021, have been used for more than 60 sessions with over 100 different simulations – transporting residents to places they would like to go. Each simulation lasts five to 10 minutes, and a session includes two or more simulations. Residents can also choose interactive games such as balloon-popping and swimming with fish.
The headsets have helped fulfil dreams. John Miller, who has multiple sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair for the past seven years, always longed to go to Brazil, but he couldn’t afford the trip. Recently, the 62-year-old was able to experience Brazil’s mountains, forests, cities, coastal line, and see the towering statue of Christ the Redeemer.
“The thing I like about virtual reality is that for a brief time, you forget about your age, health, and where you are living,” says John. “You can experience the things or places you have already been or never had the time or money for.”
John is among a growing number of residents who are accessing the virtual reality (VR) technology as part of a pilot by the recreation therapy team at the Edmonton General, thanks to funding from the Covenant Foundation.
Project lead Scott Stewart who approached the foundation to support the site, says he was able to bring the technology to the Edmonton General in 2021 after the funding request was approved by the foundation’s board of directors.
“My goal was not to use any operational funds, which is reserved for resident care," says Scott.
With core equipment, programs, services and operations funded by the government, the foundation provides support for innovative projects such as state-of-the-art equipment, specialized programs and enhanced care spaces that go above and beyond to further improve resident, patient and family experiences.
Mickey Melnyk, major gifts officer with Covenant Foundation, is glad to see that the technology is making such an impact with residents.
“We’re incredibly grateful for our generous donors who help make it possible for us to invest in innovative tools like these virtual reality headsets,” says Mickey. “The support makes such a difference because it helps gives patients and residents meaningful experiences that reduce their stress, lift their spirits and help them feel connected to the world around us.”
Scott says the simulations are selected based on the individual. “Some prefer motocross and car races; others prefer calming experiences like travelling down the canals of Venice, or going to the Louvre in Paris, or taking a tour of Buckingham Palace. Some may want to see where they grew up and how their family farm has been transformed – and we’ve been able to do that with Google Maps.”
There are plans to expand the program. All the recreation therapists have been trained to operate the headsets and the team has created a schedule to allow more residents to reap the benefits of this technology.
“We’re hoping to purchase more goggles and another tablet so it can be used throughout the Edmonton General,” says Scott. “Having more headsets means we can use it for more than just two people at a time and be able to run this for groups of four. Spouses can visit the Louvre Museum in Paris together. It enhances socialization.”
He adds that the Edmonton General is also exploring the possibility of bringing in the Tovertafel technology, which has already been successfully piloted at a few Covenant Care sites thanks to funding through a Covenant Foundation grant that was made possible by the generosity of many donors including a substantial gift from TELUS.
“Every day, there are new advancements in health technology,” says Mickey. “With the generous support of our donors, we can continue to transform the way compassionate care is delivered for Covenant’s residents and patients in Edmonton and across Alberta.”
Written by: Karen Cho
To help provide more leading-edge equipment like virtual reality headsets in Covenant continuing care sites, please visit our online donation page.