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The Milky Way

SUNSHINEVERSE

What is SunshineVerse?

SunshineVerse is an innovative project aimed to benefit the wellbeing of the unfortunate and disadvantaged in Hong Kong. More specifically, the SunshineVerse is a virtual reality (VR) solution aimed to help overcome the issues faced by the disadvantaged. During the COVID-19 lockdown, problems such as loneliness and social isolation were highlighted, causing a rise in both physical and mental health problems (due to lack of social interaction and diagnosis). The SunshineVerse was designed and created in order to address these issues. Although the COVID pandemic is no longer considered a major threat, these problems still exist due to a variety of societal issues, including lack of financial support, and physical and health limitations. 

With the increasing percentage of disadvantaged (including elderly, poor people, those with disabilities etc.) individuals confined to their homes by a lack of mobility, SunshineVerse seeks to leverage technology to address their physical, social, and emotional needs. Although we imagine SunshineVerse to be a highly scalable model that can serve diverse needs with time, we aim to kickstart the program with two main initiatives: VR travel and VR Meditation.

VR Travel:

  • Provide elderly individuals with virtual travel experiences, allowing them to explore and immerse themselves in different countries and landmarks.

  • Provide descriptions and information about each landmark in text and speech form in 3 languages - English, Cantonese, and Spanish. 

  • Enable participation in activities that would be limited due to mobility constraints.

  • Promote physical activity, sensory stimulation, and a sense of adventure.

 

VR Meditation:

  • Introduce virtual reality scenes that cater to the specific religious beliefs and preferences of patients nearing the end of their lives.

  • Create immersive experiences that simulate a comforting and pleasurable environment for patients during their final stages.

  • For example, a Christian scene may involve serene music and the sight of angels welcoming the patient to heaven, while a Buddhist scene may feature a peaceful temple with soft lighting and the presence of the Buddha.

Justification for SunshineVerse

Our research has identified three main problems amongst the elderly and the disadvantaged in Hong Kong - loneliness, cognitive decline, and lack of physical activity. 

In Hong Kong, the prevalence of physical inactivity was 13.5% among people aged 65-74 years, 22.4% among those aged 75-84 years, and 42.8% among those aged 85 years or above in 2019 (Centre for Health Protection Hong Kong Government, 2020). This not only has an impact on their physical health, but also their mental health. Research has shown that lower levels of physical activity can result in worse mental health outcomes. There is increased risk of depression and anxiety, and a decrease in overall wellbeing (Marconcin et al., 2022).

Social life is not always emphasized while loneliness is a common issue among the elderly living in elderly homes. There are 34% of elderly persons living in elderly homes reported feeling lonely or isolated (Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, 2019). This can have a negative impact on their mental and physical health. In terms of physical health, social isolation can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. From the mental health perspective, loneliness is a risk for depression, cognitive decline, dementia, anxiety, and suicide (WHO, 2021). 

Dementia is a large problem in Hong Kong. According to the Mental Health Review Report in Hong Kong (2017), about 100,000 elderly persons were diagnosed with dementia. This accounts for about 10% of the elderly population. Not only will those with dementia slowly become more and more forgetful, but their personality may also change as well, becoming more erratic and apathetic. As their dementia progresses, they will no longer be able to live alone safely, and will need to rely on carers. Elderlies also have a natural decline in cognitive abilities, even when they are healthy. 

How will SunshineVerse help?

The SunshineVerse addresses these problems by:

  • Creating an immersive experience for users to increase their sense of adventure.

  • Provide new cultural experiences and entertainment which keep users engaged and active.

  • Strengthen social bonds between users and others through the sharing of new experiences.

  • Reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness by experiencing virtual travel together with others.

  • Encourage cognitive stimulation for elderly through learning new technological skills and information.

  • Helps elderly recall older memories as well as create new memories, which in turn improves social interaction with others.

  • Provides calming and pleasantly stimulating experiences to alleviate stress and anxiety and induce positive emotions.

  • Allowing those without financial stability to experience travelling, reducing perceived deprivation and increasing positive mood.

SunshineVerse aims to improve the quality of life of our beneficiaries by increasing motivation for physical activity, reduce anxiety and strengthen bonds between beneficiaries and those around them. It is likely that in a couple of years, there will be much more VR technology available for commercial use amongst the general population. With the SunshineVerse, we aim to be the first to help integrate VR technology into everyday life in order to serve the elderly and those in need. In the future, we hope to include more and more services, including VR communication, medical consultation and diagnosis, VR therapy etc., but these will have to come later in line with the advancement of VR technology.

To our knowledge, there are currently no companies or organisations using VR and technology to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in Hong Kong. Most of the VR entertainment services in Hong Kong are directed towards the youth, and are costly. However, testing VR experiences (including VR travel and VR games) with our beneficiaries (3 elderlies aged 80-90 years) showed that they are highly interested in trying various VR experiences. The VR experience left the elderlies feeling happy and excited, and they all said they would use these services again. Primitive testing shows that the SunshineVerse is capable of bringing significant positive impacts into the lives of the disadvantaged. 

What next?

SunshineVerse is our next big project. We will be focusing on the launch and development of this project over the next few years, with the aim of kickstarting the project development in 2024. Sunshine Action is currently discussing the development of SunshineVerse with various VR developers in Hong Kong. We are also actively applying and looking for funding for this innovative project. If you are interested in donating or want to help us with the development of this project, please contact Sunny at sunshine@sunshine-action.org.

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