With the Immersive Mental health project, we are exploring how virtual reality combined with wearables can be used to help clients, patients and healthcare professionals relax.
The Immersive Mental Health project is carried out by researchers of the Centre of Expertise Care and Well-being (research group Mobilab & Care and the research group People and Well-being) with the support of the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Tetra program). During the project we work closely together with healthcare organizations and technology companies. Together we want to improve the mental well-being of care recipients and caregivers by using immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, and wearable technologies (wearables) to measure heart rate, breathing and other biofeedback during their experience.
Immersive technology includes any form of technology that extends reality or creates a new reality, e.g. virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360° video, mixed reality (MR) and immersive room or cave VR. These technologies provide a sense of immersion in an artificial environment that replaces or adapts the real environment, so that users become immersed in the newly created environment. In this project we focus on VR and 360° video experienced through VR goggles (headset).
Within the Centre of Expertise Care and Well-being, the research group Mobilab & Care together with the research group People & Well-being aim to support the healthcare sector (e.g., hospitals, psychiatric centers and mental health organizations) and the developers and distributors of immersive technology and wearables in three main challenges:
Stress is an ever-increasing challenge in our society. The health and well-being sector has long struggled with this, and the covid-19 pandemic only compounded this problem. Yet there is currently insufficient knowledge among companies and healthcare institutions about combining both technologies, and this research, together with those companies, will change that.
How could such an immersive application be used in practice?
Alex unexpectedly ends up in the hospital and has to stay there for an extended period of time. That stay begins to weigh on him after a while, and Alex is introduced to a virtual reality (VR) relaxation program. As a result, Alex sees a virtual world that responds to breathing and can be away from the hospital for a while. This brings peace of mind and restores courage to persevere. Moreover, this hospital also deploys the VR relaxation program with its employees. It is good for their well-being because they can escape the work pressure for a while. Once home, Alex can still count on the relaxation program, this time a low-threshold version with a simple headset and his own smartphone. This way, Alex can briefly duck into that other world at difficult moments.
Mobilab & Care research group is coordinating the project and specifically focusing on the technological component. The researchers contribute the following expertise and knowledge:
As a partner within Thomas More, researchers from the People and Well-being research group contribute the following expertise and knowledge:
The researchers can rely on the input of a TETRA guidance group, made up of a mix of healthcare organizations and technology companies.
Fascinated by how technology can support care today and tomorrow.
Researcher committed to introducing technology in (mental) health care for young and old.
Marlon van Loo has been a researcher in the People and Well-being Research Group since September 2022.