Could Charities Be The Medium for Sending VR Mainstream?

After HTC and academics everywhere kicked back at reports from the latest Adobe Digital Trends survey spouting the lack of agency excitement about VR, questions remained raised with the generally slow hardware uptake.

So could charities counter the blockers to virtual reality’s mass audiences?

One area in which this is already happening, is in the relief of various mental health and neurological conditions, such as dementia, or various symptoms resulting from the fallout of brain injury, of MS, Motor Neurone disease or Cerebral Palsy.

In recent news coverage from the BBC, awesome care charity Sue Ryder has been working in Scotland to support and even treat people with a variety of conditions like these -- all using accessible, mobile VR kit & apps as well as high range VR kit like the Oculus Rift.

Over the last year, Sue Ryder has completed a number of informal, observed pilot projects in Aberdeen.

They found that placing users in VR — immersed with headphones — had the following real-world, physiological effects on patients:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced pain levels, including the pain associated with brain injury
  • Ameliorated health effects that lasted for several days
  • Relaxation and reduced agitation

“About 75% of people saw blood pressure decrease – a couple increased as they were so excited,” said Louise Torrance, Head of Care at Sue Ryder in Aberdeen.

The success of the virtual reality trials so far has even led to a plan for national roll out.

As well as care centres and hospices, Sue Ryder runs a number of NGO neurological centres across the UK.

“It’s hugely significant,” said Louise.

“They are talking about it with other residents and their families. Once that is rolled out — it will have a huge impact.”

These centres support not only end-of-life needs, but the needs of those affected by brain injuries and conditions at any age. The roll out for this theraputic use of VR is expected to be complete by next year.

“They have got freedom as they can choose where to go. It’s something to look forward to.

Virtual Reality is only really starting to enjoy the first upswing of the curve in mainstream popularity.

Naturally, this also means enduring a small portion of the media’s population in pushing various hype-based headlines and ill-researched assertion pieces where it is hard to win. The narrative is either that VR is for “gamers only", or it’s “already mainstream” because it’s a ‘novelty’.

Nevertheless, it is the novelty factor itself channelled for functionality, rather than frivolity, which is driving the use of VR in care.

The Sue Ryder trial focused on a library of virtual worlds for residents to choose from. Immersive experiences included sky diving (yes really!), a beach, or scuba diving.

“Within seconds of [the equipment] being on, people were more relaxed,” said Louise Torrance.

A 65-year-old care centre resident took part in the trial to help cope with MS. In the BBC piece, she told the reporter that her VR experience was "terrific".

It’s somewhere I could not go in a wheelchair. The sea lapping at my feet feels so good.

“I feel like kicking off my shoes."

Hype 0, VR 1.