By Michael Davis, Digital Care and Performance Officer, Tricuro.
“Beautiful, I can relax for once, I can remember the band playing at Windsor Castle, what a wonderful day out. Wonderful memories. My son took me to Buckingham Palace once when he worked there. Can we do it again?”
Joyce was bubbling over after her first group virtual reality session. A wife and loving mother, family has always been the focus of Joyce’s varied and active life. As age and disability began to change the opportunities available to her, she has become a regular attendee of one of Tricuro’s flagship day centres.
Joyce’s virtual reality experience included a trip to London, a virtual tour of all the landmarks including exploring behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace. Revisiting those places, which seemed only that morning totally out of reach, unlocked so many positive memories. However, what made such a positive impact was sharing those memories with her friends.
Our journey within VR began in 2017. We took more than 60 clients through a programme of one-on-one sessions from across the breadth of our services. At the conclusion of this programme we realised two very striking things:
Firstly, anyone can benefit from virtual reality technology – age and disability had little to no relevance on who could participate. Secondly, our clients reported the greatest wellbeing increase when the session revolved around their past, their family and the things they loved ≠ the very essence of a person-centred approach.
Of course, this presented a problem – how can you be person-centred when the technology, and the content you are tapping into, is generic and open-source and the facilitating technology is completely alien to the client?
The answer lay in recognising that what we were trying to achieve had nothing to do with the technology we were using. What we wanted to do was to enable others to relive their story and then to share that cathartic experience, strengthening their bonds with their peers and those caring for them.
This premise underpins our group VR sessions. Our clients can go for an African safari or take a virtual trip around London, to name but two options. We link them to the experience and to their past with props such as plane tickets, we engage their other senses with tastes of the country they are visiting virtually (a full-flavoured Brie on a trip to Paris anyone?), but most importantly we encourage conversation.
We pick small groups, place clients with people they get along with and make sure everyone knows each other’s name. In this way we hope to add longevity to the experience, bringing a shared experience to clients who otherwise might struggle to find common ground.
We also always have a member of staff participating, partly so they can use their knowledge of the clients to steer the session, but also challenge the traditional power dynamic. By being a passenger on the same journey it allows for human connection uninhibited by the carer/client relationship.
Our staff have reported finding out things they never would have guessed about the clients they support, and through that familiarity more effective person-centred care can develop.
By providing Joyce with an opportunity to re-experience a moment in time, and providing her with a platform to express the emotions that rekindled with the support of her peers, we gave her the freedom to feel the happiness associated with a full life well lived, the melancholia of a home long passed, and, ultimately, a moment’s respite from her disability.
Joyce is not alone – more than 130 clients have taken part in our group VR sessions. Yet this is just another step along a journey for Tricuro, and only part of our story as we seek to live up to two of our founding values: empowerment and innovation.
Tricuro delivers services to approximately 6,000 clients across Dorset – for many of whom the challenges of maintaining their health and wellbeing mean that accessing the wider world can seem an insurmountable task. Our ambition is to reopen some of those closed doors, and our challenge is to do so in a way which is outcome-focused, strengths-based and sustainable.