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Planet Wellbeing project uses virtual reality to tackle loneliness in UK’s ageing population
Power-assisted exercise experts Innerva have teamed up with academics and technology providers to launch Planet Wellbeing, a virtual reality solution designed to alleviate loneliness and mental health issues in older adults.
Innerva are part of a consortium comprising immersive technologies specialist Pixelmill Digital, Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) and Age UK Sheffield.
The project is being funded through Innovate UK’s 2023 Mindset Extended Reality for Digital Mental Health competition. The scheme aims to facilitate the development of new solutions that use immersive technologies to improve the delivery of mental health and wellbeing services.
Loneliness is a major issue of modern society. According to Age UK, 1.4 million older people in the UK are often lonely. Chronic loneliness has been linked to poor mental and physical health.
Designed to support older people suffering loneliness and isolation, Planet WellBeing is a virtual world where older adults can connect with others and enjoy fun and engaging activities. These may include exploring the world, dancing, playing games and interacting with avatars. Users will be able to enjoy the immersive experience alone or with friends, family and therapists.
“Loneliness and social isolation have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of older adults. With Planet WellBeing we aim to address this issue by providing a virtual world that is safe, engaging and inclusive,” said Jon Hymus, Commercial Director of Innerva.
Planet Wellbeing is being developed in close consultation with older adults to ensure it meets their needs and that everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, can access the solution.
The project will assess the effect of the virtual world on users’ mental wellbeing, including loneliness, depression and anxiety, as well as general quality of life.
Vin Sumner, CEO at PixelMill Digital said: “Having worked in the field of immersive technology for over 15 years, PixelMill is excited about the opportunity through Planet WellBeing to develop an application that will help improve the lives of those suffering from loneliness.”
Teresa Barker, Chief Executive of Age UK Sheffield, said: “We are excited to be part of this consortium and to work with leading experts in the field to develop Planet WellBeing. We believe that this virtual world has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach mental health and wellbeing for older adults.”
Dr Ben Heller, Associate Professor at Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, said: “This work builds on research we have been conducting for over a decade that has demonstrates how older people can be motivated to exercise more through fun, social activities in virtual worlds. It ties in very well with the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre’s goal to improving health and wellbeing through movement.”
Launched in June 2023, The Planet WellBeing project is expected to last 18 months. With the support of Innovate UK, the consortium aims to pave the way for further innovation in the field of digital mental health for older adults.
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Notes to Editor
Innerva, part of the Shapemaster group, is a British designer and manufacturer of power assisted wellbeing solutions, with over 30 years of engineering knowledge and excellence. Innerva’s solution is suitable for older adults, active ageing, people with limited mobility and those managing long term health conditions. Innerva is committed to improving health outcomes through innovative technologies. With a focus on mental health and well-being, Innerva creates bespoke solutions that are tailored to the needs of individuals, healthcare providers, and organisations.
About Pixelmill Digital:
Pixelmill Ltd is a leading technology solutions provider specializing in the development of immersive technologies for various industries.
About Age UK Sheffield:
Age UK Sheffield are a local charity that provides support and services to older people, their families, and carers in Sheffield, UK. They want everyone to be able to love later life and to end loneliness for older people. It has been reported that approximately 12,000 older people in Sheffield are always or often lonely and Age UK Sheffield are working to ensure Sheffield is a city in which no older person lives in poverty or loneliness.
About AWRC Sheffield Hallam University:
The Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) at Sheffield Hallam University is a research centre that develops innovations and research that promote physical activity, health, and wellbeing.