HOSPICE residents are the first palliative care patients in Scotland to experience the effects of virtual reality in a new groundbreaking research project being led by an East Lothian social enterprise and university.

Thanks to East Linton-based Viarama, the interactive initiative, which can virtually transport patients to locations on the other side of the world, will look at the impact of virtual reality (VR) on their health and wellbeing.

An initial group of six residents at St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh benefited from the transformative effects of VR when they were offered the chance to revisit some of their favourite places or explore a part of the world they had never seen.

Using the latest high-tech VR headsets, one individual was transported to Jerusalem, a place he had always dreamed of visiting.

In another session, a 101-year-old woman was thrilled to revisit her childhood home in Darjeeling and indulge in a trip up the Amazon river for the first time.

The experience triggered happy memories with the opportunity to reminisce about old times, as well as encounter new places.

The patients also took the chance to immerse themselves in an under-sea adventure.

Through the use of VR, the patients could explore a sunken wreck with fish circling overhead while an enormous whale passed by.

The initial virtual reality taster was run by Billy Agnew, founder of Viarama – said to be the world’s first virtual reality social enterprise, which uses the power of VR as a force for good within communities across Scotland.

He is now working along with Queen Margaret University at Musselburgh and St Columba’s on a research project involving 20 hospice patients.

The project will look at the potential benefit of VR with a focus on patients’ mood, pain and stress levels, as well as overall wellbeing.

Mr Agnew said: “We look forward to giving many more hospice patients in Scotland the opportunity to enjoy the best VR experiences available, whilst exploring and measuring the many ways in which we believe VR helps people receiving palliative care.”

Dr Erna Haraldsdottir, senior lecturer in nursing at Queen Margaret University and director of education and research at St Columba’s Hospice, said: “Thanks to a grant from the Margaret Murphy Charitable Trust and generosity from Viarama, St Columba’s Hospice and QMU are excited to introduce a group of 20 patients to the exhilarating world of virtual reality at such a significant stage in their lives.

“This important research will help us better understand the benefits of using VR and identify future interventions which may improve the quality of life of patients receiving palliative care.

“The patients loved it. They were thrilled by the experience.

“One family member said it was the first time that her mother had smiled in months.

“It was wonderful to see the immediate impact on individuals.”