NEW BRUNSWICK - Bob Gutworth glided over the jagged bluffs and hovered above wind-tossed fields of tall grass. And when the countryside gave way to a volcano, he drifted over the craterous opening, passing unharmed through plumes of steam.
It was the trip of a lifetime into the wilds of New Zealand.
And yet, Gutworth didn’t so much as rise from his easy chair.
The science of virtual reality is allowing community members at Parker’s residential campus in New Brunswick to travel the world over – a welcomed opportunity during the lingering pandemic.
Parker has partnered with tech startup Rendever to bring the cutting-edge technology to its residents. It has been their golden ticket to the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids and any other far-flung locale the elders have dreamed of visiting.
The adventure does not end with exotic travel. These elders are also invited to plunge into other immersive experiences, such as skydiving, hiking or scuba diving. Who knew an evening in a reclinercould be so much fun?
“Going to New Zealand and seeing all the volcanos and the stone formations and the whole landscape there, it was very nice,” Gutworth said. “Also, swimming underwater with the dolphins was quite an experience. I actually felt like I was in the water with the dolphins; it is a truly amazing experience I will not soon forget.”
Judy Collett-Miller, Director of Planning and Technology Innovation at Parker, said care partners help the community members don the headsets, which sit firmly against the face and blocks out light – and reality.
It’s a 360-degree experience available to Parker’s long-term care and assisted-living community members.
She said Parker is continuing to identify new ways the technology can be used to help cure isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 quarantine, whether it’s giving community members a chance to revisit their childhood neighborhoods or guide them through a 15-minute meditation experience.
No matter the experience, the life-like quality has captured the imaginations of these engaged residents.
“There are some activities in there where you can play with something as simple as newborn puppies,” Collett-Miller said. “You'll see residents actually reaching out to touch them.”
The virtual reality technology will eventually be adapted so four Parker community members can use it simultaneously. That offers a social interaction component, sending these elders together on a fun trip to, places like the canals of Venice or to stroll among penguins in blustery Antarctica.
“That would make the technology even more valuable considering the limits on in-person family visits and strong social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Collett-Miller said.
Patricia Newman, the director of recreation at Parker, said she will not soon forget the reactions from the first community member who experienced the virtual reality.
“He was twisting around in his seat because this is a totally immersive, 360-degree experience,” she said. “So, they’re turning their heads up, down, left and right. When we were at the Grand Canyon, he was totally overcome. He was excited. Most of the residents are saying, ‘How is this possible? How are you doing this?’”
Parker also has campuses in Piscataway, Highland Park, Somerset and Monroe.