Virtual Reality for Hospice Patients
Virtual reality (VR) technology is undergoing a renaissance as the technology required to generate immersive imagery becomes smaller and more accessible. While these advancements have largely been used by video game developers and consumers, research suggests the potential for VR technology can extend into the hospice and healthcare professions as well.
Select VITAS teams* employ VR as a palliative tool, easing patients’ pain and other symptoms by immersing them in calming virtual environments.
VR can also help our patients participate in events they would otherwise miss. For example, we use VR for bedbound and low-mobility hospice patients, to provide experiences such as a veterans’ Honor Flight to Washington DC, a trip to an art museum or a bucket-list destination.
VR isn’t appropriate for every patient and its efficacy is still being studied, but early medical research is promising.
Who Can Benefit From Virtual Reality?
VR technology provides the most benefit to patients who:
- Experience pain and symptoms that are difficult to control through traditional medical interventions
- Feel anxious or are affected by dementia
- Lack social interaction or sensor stimulation
- Are unable to enjoy certain experiences in person due to their condition
- Have PTSD or other psychiatric conditions
How Is Virtual Reality Used in Hospice?
VITAS hospice team members trained in the technology bring VR headsets to our patients at home or in one of our inpatient hospice units. With the team member’s assistance, a patient wearing the headset can relax in an idyllic virtual environment, explore a foreign country, revisit a childhood home, or walk along beautiful nature trail or beach.
Several studies–including one conducted by VITAS in collaboration with AT&T–indicate VR is effective at managing symptoms in certain patients near the end of life.
*Virtual reality is not available in every VITAS location. Please contact your local VITAS team for more information.