How Virtual Reality Helps Patients in Hospice: A Real-Life Story
When thinking back about my own experience with hospice, I remember my grandfather. He fell ill in late 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with what we thought was just a simple and easy-to-cure virus. Within a matter of weeks, my family was contacted by the director of nursing at the hospital he was being cared for and given our options for his end-of-life transition.
This is never an easy conversation to have, both with the patient and their loved ones. Being our first experience with placing a loved one in hospice, we had hardly done any research and trusted the process that the nursing staff at the hospital had recommended. My grandfather was moved into an in-patient hospice unit and unfortunately, given the nature of his illness, he did not fully understand what was going on. With COVID-19 protocols in place, my father was limited to visiting him for one hour each day.
The Negative Effects of Isolation in Hospice Patients
My grandfather passed away a week after making the transition. Do I think social isolation and lack of engagement played a role in his deteriorating health? Absolutely. This was a man who, at 75 years old, until becoming ill, still went to “work” (not really work, he just liked to help his friends out with construction projects). Every Sunday, the same man would spend his day making his rounds to his children and grandchildren’s houses to bring them donuts and spend an hour or two talking about the week. That same Sunday, as every Sunday, he would make sure he was at his church to pass around the donation basket and devote his faith. He was a boxer, a friend, a businessman, a protector of our country, and the best patriarch a family could ask for.
When I think back, I wish he was viewed for all the things he was, instead of the “patient” he had become. He lived an extraordinary life. The experience that I had with him through his end-of-life transition is what drew me to Rendever and the mission to combat social isolation through the power of shared positive experiences.
I share the same story when I approach hospice organizations and introduce them to Rendever. I am very proud of the hospice partners we support at Rendever, including Tidewell Hospice, Treasure Coast Hospice, Big Bend Hospice, Interior Health Authority, and Care Hospice, to name a few.
Virtual Reality Improves Hospice and Palliative Care Patient’s Well-being
Hospice and palliative care providers are increasingly using virtual reality to help reduce pain, anxiety, and feelings of fear and isolation in patients with chronic conditions. According to a report from the Journal of Pain Research, virtual reality (VR) could be effective in helping to alleviate those symptoms.
Together, hospice and palliative care providers and Rendever have fostered experiences acknowledging and celebrating the lives of hundreds of patients. This is one of the parts of the job that I hold dearest to my heart.
My favorite story and one I experienced firsthand was with Ms. Brenda, an individual in the care of Community Hospice and Palliative Care in Florida. A care team member had reached out to Rendever and expressed they had a well-traveled individual with one place she had yet to visit, the Grand Canyon.
We sent their team a Rendever platform with two headsets, one for Ms. Brenda and the other for her daughter, and scheduled our virtual trip to the Grand Canyon later that week. On the day of our virtual trip, I was ready and on Zoom earlier than normal. I wanted to ensure there would be no delays on this important day and that I was ready to guide our Grand Canyon experience through my tablet. Together, Ms. Brenda and her daughter were able to hike the Grand Canyon (virtually) and fulfill her dream to see the canyon in all its glory. Throughout the experience, Ms. Brenda pointed to what she was seeing and, with much excitement, kept saying, “wow!” Her daughter and care team were moved to tears. It was shared a few moments after the experience that she had traveled the whole country with the circus (how cool!), but the Grand Canyon was one stop they never made. That day her team gained a deeper understanding of the adventurous life she lived, and for that moment, Ms. Brenda escaped from the four walls she was within to check off her final bucket list item.
Experiences like that trigger engagement on a much deeper, personal level. Through Rendever, family members can reminisce with their loved ones by seeing the homes they once lived in, the towns they grew up in, and their favorite vacation destinations. While watching these experiences unfold, caregivers will get the chance to hear the stories of the individuals they have been serving as memories as sparked through the immersion. From that, they're able to relate with patients on a more personal level, allowing them to engage in conversation like never before.
I look back to my family’s experience with my grandfather and how Rendever would have made his end-of-life experience more positive and comfortable. During the hour that my father visited my grandfather each day, he could have brought Rendever and taken a tour with him through Sicily. That was a place he had always wanted to go. They could have looked at family photos in a virtual space together and shared stories about “the good old days,” as my grandfather would call it. I make it my mission with Rendever to empower hospice patients to look beyond the unfortunate circumstances that they find themselves in through the use of VR, and I strive to help our partners celebrate the lives of each individual - one Rendever session at a time.