Working in collaboration with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, the Virtual Restorative Environment Therapy (VRET) project aims to exploit simulated restorative environments to deliver similar benefits to those individuals who are unable to access and experience real natural environments.
Research conducted since the late 1970s suggests that exposing individuals to natural environments, such as rural and coastal settings and smaller-scale urban areas with natural features (gardens, parks, etc.) can promote stress reduction, enhance mental recovery following tasks requiring high levels of attention, even reduce post-operative recovery times and the need for pharmaceutical pain relief.
These “restorative environments” are now recognised as powerful tools in the treatment of a range of psychological conditions and a number of hospital-based projects are being conducted to encourage engagement with the natural environment to promote both psychological well-being and physical recovery.
Our healthcare research is addressing how to exploit VR recreations of areas of natural beauty to help patients recover from traumatic incidents (including operations) and improve the well-being of others, from settings as diverse as Intensive Care Units to elderly care homes. This research, which includes developing dynamic participative activities to support post-operative recovery of lung function and lower limb rehabilitation, is based on the virtual recreation of a popular West Country location – Wembury Bay.
Virtual Wembury has also been used at special military and space research locations in the Arctic (CFS Alert) and Hawaii (HiSEAS) as part of experiments to assess the role of virtual environments in helping to sustain mental well-being for individuals located in remote, inhospitable environments.