Managing Hospitalization Burnout

The purpose of this study is to explore novel ways to use Virtual Reality (VR) to mitigate hospitalization burnout (hospitalization-mitigated feelings of distress associated with homesickness or social isolation, environmental stagnancy, and or functional or external community based stressors). Hospitalization burnout can have a devastating impact on a patient’s hospital stay: it may result in increases in medication, a lengthened course of treatment, impede recovery and participation in therapy, and create additional distress to the patient, their family members and care partners. Exposure to natural environments (seeing greenery, hearing outside natural sounds) has been shown to decrease, anxiety and physiological distress.  VR technology presents a unique opportunity to transport participants away from the environment that may be amplifying their distress, and expose them to natural calming settings (e.g. peaceful lake, quiet forest) enabled by novel technology that uses 360-degree films.

A Real Virtual Reality Story: Anecdotes from the Ward - Shared with the permission of Glengarry staff

Today a patient of 95 years of age who has been in decline since her admission to HGMH,  with some hesitation took part in Virtual Reality.  She is here to strengthen mobility and relies on a wheelchair to get around.  She is a woman who has quite a story to tell, having lived in England during the second world war, enlisted in the woman’s land army and has many wonderful experiences to share.  She reminisced of how as a young girl, her mother would often take her and her four siblings for a seaside vacation off the coast of Sussex.  She so loves the water and has fond childhood memories from that time.

We slowly made our way to the courtyard where she took part in viewing the shores of Lake Ontario.  Her first words were “Oh this is lovely”.   She did not display any smiles during her session, but afterwards, there was definitely more eye contact as she talked about how it made her feel peaceful, and how lovely it was just to watch the water. And that she would like to have VR sessions daily if she could.

While crossing the courtyard and entering the activity room we met a gentleman who is also taking part in VR, he too is in a wheelchair.  They were introduced and it became known that they both enjoyed the VR and viewing of the water and took a few moments both in wheelchairs, eye to eye, in the middle of the doorway sharing their VR experience and how it made them feel.  They were both smiling and having a lovely chat.  Rewind a bit, it is important to take note that the woman of 95 years of age had indicated that she found it hard to speak with people and make new friends.  She had just made a new friend.

The woman patient continued to a table in the activity room and took part in some conversation with those around the table.

The gentleman was up next for his VR session.  We chatted about how he had made the lady he had just met, laugh and smile.  He said, I’d like to go back and visit with her during lunch.  Suggestion taken!  We proceeded with his VR session and he was quite vocal about his Cirque du Soleil experience, moving his head from right from right to left (though he has a left side deficit).  After Cirque du Soleil, he was offered to view a dinosaur (a herbivore) nothing scary, taken out of Jurassic Park.  He particularly enjoyed that.   

Time for lunch.  Off to the activity room we went.  Where he wanted to meet up with his new found friend, slowly he wheeled himself over to her, maneuvering through the tables.  He went and held her hand and asked her how she was feeling.  They chatted holding hands and smiling. Unknown to him his daughter and wife had come for a visit.  His wife and daughter were concerned about him, because he too had been showing signs of decline.  They looked on as they observed their Dad, and husband conversing with his new friend. “I’ll come and find you later this afternoon so that we can talk”, he said.  She smiled.

This is a real virtual reality story, of patients helping each other find a connection through who would have thought?-technology.  But it goes deeper than that, and hopefully it is a friendship that will be nourished and help them to each regain the strength needed to return home.  The power of connection can be an amazing thing.