Joyce Penfold 103 years-old VR technology 

Turning 103 is a milestone worth celebrating – and Joyce Penfold marked her special day by trialling new virtual reality technology, thanks to the University of Plymouth.

Brought to Tresillian House in Falmouth, the ROVR is a type of virtual reality walker that enables users to visit local landmarks, walk through fields, take in towns and cities and even explore museums.

Joyce enjoyed standing in the sea at Godrevy, Hayle in Cornwall (virtually), where she could see the lighthouse and the waves and water around her. While she is mobile and enjoys assisted living, the technology enables her to visit places which are harder for her to access in real life.

The new technology is being trialled as part of the University’s ongoing research in its Centre for Health Technology, and is made possible by its Generating Older Active Lives Daily (GOALD) project. The team hopes to demonstrate the positive impact that the regular use of VR technology can have for older people on their mobility, strength and balance. They will also gain valuable feedback to aid the development and production of the new technology.

Joyce said: 
“I found it very strange and different at first, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve seen cities, waterfalls, the sea – and I very much enjoyed it. The young women from the University of Plymouth were excellent, they made me very comfortable.
“Usually the only time I go out is when my daughter takes me out, and the furthest we go is just a few miles, for a coffee perhaps and a good old chat! The trips on the walker made a nice change but I don’t have any desire to go see places further abroad just yet.”
Joyce Penfold 103 years-old VR technology 

Joyce’s daughter, Maria Blagden, added: 

“I wasn’t totally surprised because she does embrace everything that’s new. I think she was over 70 when she took her first aeroplane flight, so nothing puts her off.”

Leonie Cooper, from the GOALD team, said: 

“It really touches me how excited the residents get. It’s not just about what they see, but about what they hear as well. They have commented on the birds singing and the trees moving in the wind. It’s really nice to be able to take them to places that they may not have been before, or may not be able to access anymore.”

Dr Hannah Bradwell, Digital Health Research Fellow for the GOALD project, has been working in partnership with Vicky Gillow, Abbeyfield’s Community Engagement Manager, to bring the trial to Tresillian House. Dr Bradwell said: 

“We’re really interested in the use of technology to support physical activity for older adults, and for us this technology has a lot of potential to that regard. As people walk on the treadmill, they get to explore the virtual worlds. Having a range of places to be explored creates the motivation to be active.”

Vicki added: 

“It is wonderful to see the level of engagement and interaction as residents used the ROVR and headset. The majority of residents were happy to try the walker and shared their impressions with one another. There has been a lot of joy and laughter so far and some wonderful experiences.”

Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD)

Participating in activities such as online games, virtual social gatherings and using assistive technologies allows us to stay connected to our communities and create meaningful experiences which positively impact our health and wellbeing. But how can we ensure these activities are accessible to older people?
The GOALD project is using intergenerational groups to examine how to design and deliver digital resources to provide and engage older people in structured activity programmes with the aim of improving their health and wellbeing.
Elderly person in wheelchair exercising using a virtual reality (VR) headset

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

Find out more about the Centre for Health Technology
Online tele medicine isometric concept. Medical consultation and treatment via application of smartphone connected internet clinic.