Virtual Reality

‘Surreal': Virtual Reality Simulation Shows What It's Like to Die

'I was pretty skeptical in the beginning. It's very unique and very emotional as it's happening,' said Hospice of Southern Maine CEO Daryl Cady

A new virtual reality simulation is helping hospice workers and medical students see what it's like to die.

An end-of-life simulation by Embodied Labs is now educating staff and students at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough, Maine. It's also a required experience for medical students at the University of New England. Grant money awarded to UNE paid for the simulation technology.

"It was amazing," said Hospice of Southern Maine CEO Daryl Cady. "I was pretty skeptical in the beginning. It's very unique and very emotional as it's happening."

The simulation lasts about 30 minutes and follows a cancer patient named Clay. The participant sees how Clay is struggling to have conversations with his family, suffers a fall and ends up in the E.R., and eventually transitions into hospice care. The experience shows how his skin changes and senses dull.

"His eye sight gets really dim as the end of life process is coming to a close," said hospice nurse Kate Henderson. "That was a little bit surreal."

Second-year UNE medical student Victoria Nguyen thought the simulation was very moving.

"Just seeing the family hit hard," she said. "It's definitely really emotional." She now wants to study old age with gerontology and thinks she may want to work in the hospice field.

"Everyone dies," she said. "I think making it easier is what is going to help the most."

Cady said the module will help staff empathize with their patients, and provide emotional support for their family members. When they build a new facility, Hospice of Southern Maine plans to have a simulation center where more staff and members of the community can experience the virtual reality.

"It's difficult to have conversations about end of life," Cady said. "This is an opportunity to learn about it before they really need us."

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