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Augmented reality for sensory stimulation

22nd June 2020 | 10 mins

Augmented reality in aged care

Dorothy gazed at the brightly coloured fish swimming in a pond full of lily pads. “Had she played in the pond growing up?” we ask. Dorothy describes to us her childhood and then her work as a teacher in Queensland, how she lived on a farm and would often walk her children to the dam to catch tadpoles. She talks of the joy children have brought to her life.

Using the visual cues of ROMPA augmented reality technology, Dorothy, who is living with dementia at Opal Windward Manor, was able to reminisce and share her special memories with us. It was an experience that warmed her heart and ours.

At Opal we continually seek ways to improve the wellbeing of our residents through engaging in interests and activities that bring meaning and joy to their lives. Exciting new technologies such as ROMPA stimulate the senses and delight residents with new and enjoyable experiences.

We first piloted this technology in 17 homes in 2019 and it has now been rolled out in all Opal care communities. ROMPA is a portable digital projection device that can be used in a resident’s room, in a one-on-one setting, in a small group around a table, or in a large group projecting onto the floor. The dynamic displays are controlled using gestures and movements by participants, enabling opportunities for learning, imagination, reminiscence, interaction and play with others. There are over 500 apps, including games, meditative experiences, quizzes, and programs based around hobbies and interests that can be used by young and old, including people living with cognitive decline or dementia.

By introducing ROMPA into an elder care setting, our residents can explore new technology and take up the opportunity to learn new skills that they otherwise may not have been exposed to. Interactions might involve kicking a virtual soccer ball across a field, learning about different flags of the world, destroying asteroids with a pool noodle, sweeping a hand through a pond to make fish swim, or sweeping away autumn leaves with a rake.

We have seen many positive outcomes from using augmented reality. Arlie, General Manager at Opal Netherby says, “the interactive play supports our residents not only with sensory stimulation but also mental stimulation and physical health.” She describes residents being in awe as they watch colours brighten and come to life in front of their eyes, and one resident who usually requires assistance with mobility was “practically jumping out of his chair” with excitement.
Lifestyle coordinator Grace says ROMPA is very popular among residents and they often play for hours. “What is impressive about it is that you can choose several games without changing locations and without packing or unpacking the equipment.” Mary at Opal Seahaven described residents’ amazement at the technology. “They said ‘we didn’t have anything like this in our day.’”

At Opal Netherby residents like to use pool noodles to splat chickens running around a farm, while residents at Opal Seahaven enjoy using extendable ‘arms’, waving them over a virtual fishpond to make the fish swim.

Using ROMPA

Residents who are living with dementia often find visual cues in the apps that evoke special memories and enable reminiscence. Others who may ordinarily have difficulty concentrating, find the ability to focus on the task at hand and be ‘in flow’. Research suggests that pairing mental and physical stimulation in a familiar environment can release dopamine in the brain, which has the potential to positively affect memory management.

Alan at Opal Springwood is living with vascular dementia. He thoroughly enjoys using ROMPA and delighted in giving fellow residents a demonstration. Our team said it gave him a real sense of achievement. Alan finds it difficult to settle into tasks but will happily use ROMPA for minutes at a time, which has had a positive effect on his mood and wellbeing.

Peter lives at Opal Coffs Harbour. He loves the chicken splatting game and finds great enjoyment in ‘chasing’ them around the virtual yard. He says using the augmented reality games makes it easier to be away from his loved ones. At Opal Denhams Beach Lorna also finds splatting the chickens highly entertaining. Initially tentative around the technology, Lorna quickly became confident enough to stand on the images projected onto the floor and splat chickens with her feet.

Helene, General Manager at Opal Norah Head says the technology has been a talking point with residents. “Neville uses a wheelchair and has found engaging with the game gives him a task to focus on. He enjoys the autumn leaves app and spends time methodically sweeping up the leaves, rolling across the floor projection in his wheelchair. When he’s done he likes to high five his fellow residents!”

ROMPA encourages group activity and engagement. We have observed an increase in residents socialising together over the games, and team members joining in the fun. An app that is popular with residents living in our Memory Care Neighbourhoods involves virtual autumn leaves falling to the ground. Our team at Opal Denhams Beach recall a heart-warming moment when a resident watching others using the app was handed a broom. Like magic, he instinctively began sweeping the leaves away. It prompted conversations between residents and the team over a shared love for autumn and the sound of leaves crackling underfoot.

With each ROMPA interaction, we learn more about our residents and how technology can support their social and sensory needs. We have found that it promotes physical movement and mental stimulation, helping to improve balance and coordination through cognitive physio exercise where your brain and body work simultaneously. Our residents’ minds work harder, their physical movement often improves and they have an enjoyable platform to engage with others and build friendships.

ROMPA is fun for all ages, and as we begin to welcome children back into our care homes following COVID-19 restrictions, we look forward to enabling shared experiences for our residents and children. For many kids, their grandparents just may be able to teach them some new technology tricks!


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