Virtual reality project by Flix Film helps hospice patients check off their bucket lists

( May 22, 2017
by Molly Gottschalk

In the past year, a charity hospice in London has enabled end-of-life patients to run with wild horses in Iceland, tour Venice’s canals aboard a gondola, go skydiving—all without leaving their beds.

It’s all part of a pilot program at Royal Trinity Hospice that’s exploring the potential of using virtual reality for palliative care—a fast-growing specialty geared toward improving quality of life for those suffering from serious, life-threatening, and in many cases terminal illness.

The project has its roots in 2016, when Flix Films director Leon Ancliffe met an artist and mother of two, Sarah Ezekiel, who’d been paralyzed with motor neuron disease for the past 16 years. Among her deepest regrets, she told him, was never having swam with dolphins. “I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if we were able to give Sarah that bucket-list experience using virtual reality?” says Ancliffe.

After calling up a friend in the VR department of BBC, they outfitted Ezekiel with a headset and sent her plunging into the depths of the sea. The impact was astonishing. “That was when the penny dropped; just seeing how much joy it had given her,” he says. From there, Ancliffe approached Royal Trinity about a partnership using VR technology, which is now evolving into a fully fledged medical study focused on the impact of VR on chronic pain and general well being.

At the hospice, patients are consulted about their memories and their dreams—where they got engaged, where they thought they’d never go again—and given a Google Daydream or Samsung Gear headset loaded with a visual playlist. Although this initial stage of the project has relied on existing 360-degree footage, Flix Films has recently invested in a camera to shoot original material custom-tailored to patients.

So far, patients have donned goggles to surf the waves of Tahiti or ski the slopes of the Austrian Alps.

While similar healthcare initiatives have brought seriously ill children on virtual roller coasters or dementia patients to underwater coral reefs, according to Letizia Perna-Forrest, head of patient and family support at the hospice, the potential for end-of-life care is tremendous—and still largely untapped. “If we can help people alleviate their pain without increasing their dosages, or if we can alleviate some of their anxiety by taking them somewhere else, or reduce their breathlessness or their fatigue, that’s a win,” she says.

Read the full Artsy article here.

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