Virtual reality in hospice

Therapeutic applications of virtual reality (VR) in healthcare have grown over the past 20 years.  Both immersive, where the participate views visual stimuli through a headset creating the feeling of being ‘in’ the virtual environment, and non-immersive, where the participate experiences the visual stimuli on a computer screen, applications have been studied.  While the field of research is still new, studies have demonstrated positive outcomes for individuals using VR for several conditions including: anxiety disorders, phobias, post-traumatic stress syndrome and eating disorders and for pain management.

A 2021 study by Lloyd and Haraldsdottir1 sought to explore the acceptability and benefits of using immersive VR for people with life-limiting conditions in a hospice setting.  Nineteen individuals, ranging in age from 39 to 102 years, receiving hospice palliative care in Scotland were included in the study.  Each participant attended a 30-minute immersive VR session, wearing headsets and headphones, where they could experience a destination of their choice, such as childhood home, previous vacation destination or a place they had always wished to see.  The VR session was followed by an interview to explore the participants’ experiences of and responses to the VR session.

Overall, participants described their experiences as positive.  Lloyd and Haraldsdottir identified three themes that emerged from the interviews:

  • Capacity for new experiences – a degree of fulfillment in virtually visiting places that they can no longer physically visit.
  • Capacity to reconnect with the past – including revisiting positive experiences of earlier life and finding a sense of closure.
  • Capacity to forget – feeling calm, relaxed and unaware of pain during and after the session.

The VR reality experience was seen as acceptable to participants.  Further, while more evidence is required, this study does suggest that VR can be beneficial in hospice settings by helping to alleviate symptoms, such as pain, and enhancing emotional well-being.


  1. Lloyd, A., & Haraldsdottir, E. (2021). Virtual reality in hospice: improved patient well-being. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care11(3), 344-350.