The Frostbit Software Lab in Lapland University of Applied Sciences has developed Green Care Virtual Reality environment that relax but also actives people in forest environments. Development work was enabled and resourced by the Active Arctic project.
On Forest Visitor VR (In Finnish: Metsänkävijä VR) there are two different scenarios. One where the user finds himself in middle of the forest surrounded by nature with animals to spot and mushrooms to be picked and another one with calming lake environment with sound of the lake water and birds and with a possibility to fish with traditional bait fishing pole.
Green Care solutions, which involve the use of nature-based interventions such as ecotherapy animal-assisted therapy and gardening, have been shown to have a positive impact on various aspects of well-being, including physical, psychological, and social well-being.
One study conducted in the Netherlands found that engaging in horticultural activities, such as gardening, had a positive effect on physical health by reducing stress and increasing physical activity levels (van den Berg et al., 2010). Another study conducted in the United States found that animal-assisted therapy had a positive impact on psychological well-being by reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Barker & Dawson, 1998).
Ecotherapy, which involves nature-based interventions to improve mental health, has also been shown to positively impact psychological well-being. A review of 10 studies on ecotherapy found that it was associated with significant improvements in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress (Summers & Vivian 2018).
However, not everyone has easy access to nature and green spaces. Virtual reality (VR) green care applications can provide a solution for people who are unable to physically access nature. These applications can provide immersive experiences that simulate natural environments and can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels (Valtchanov et al., 2010).
One study found that a VR forest environment had a calming effect on participants and reduced their stress levels. The results pointed out that there is increasement in relaxation, attention restoration and clearing one’s thoughts effects among the participants (Mattila et al., 2020).
“Metsänkävijä VR” solution has been tested around Finnish Lapland by multiple elderly housing service providers and designed further with their feedback. Testing has also been arranged with disabled people, mental car unit staff and with children with autism spectrum. The feedback has been useful and further personalized development is wanted.
Picture 1. Testing VR forest environment at Lapin Muistiyhdistys, Päivätoiminta Onnimanni.
Solutions were taken into testing in a very open-minded way and with no fear for modern technology. Although, with disabled people the testing pointed out that the setup of testing needs specific approach and help from familiar nurses. User centric design has critical impact in this kind of application case as it is designed in plug & play way.
These solutions have enormous potential also in mental healthcare of young people as a motivating environment to go more often out to nature but also in virtual travelling field.
Picture 2. Testing VR forest environment at Rovaseudun hoivapalvelut, Seutulanharjun hoivakoti.
In summary, Green Care solutions are important for various aspects of well-being, and VR Green Care applications can provide content for people who are unable to go out to nature. These interventions may positively impact physical, psychological, and social well-being and improve quality of life.
The importance of projects like Active Arctic cannot be underlined enough. It is crucial to make these solutions familiar to the target groups. In the project we are finding best practices to digitalize well-being sector, including SME’s, research organizations and increasing knowledge of solutions to public sector. Main actions of the project are to:
- increase awareness of digital solutions on market currently and upcoming ones in near future,
- collide ICT sectors solutions and companies with well-being and healthcare domain,
- find new business models and activities from digital solutions implementation,
- define how Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) of wellbeing sector could be established to Finnish Lapland in best conceivable way, and to
- actively network and establish collaboration between actors.
For further inquiries, please contact Active Arctic Project Managers: Tuuli Tikkanen (tuuli.tikkanen(a)lapinamk.fi and
Ella Björn (ella.bjorn(a)ulapland.fi)
Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients
Valtchanov, D., Barton K. R., Ellard, C. (2010).Restorative Effects of Virtual Nature Settings
(Summerrs, J. K. & Vivian, D. N.). Ecotherapy – A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326808852_Ecotherapy_-_A_Forgotten_Ecosystem_Service_A_Review
van den Berg, A., E., Groenewegen, P.,P., Maas, J., Verheij, R. A. (2010). Green space as a buffer between stressful life events and health https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953610000675?via%3Dihub
Mattila , O , Korhonen , A , Pöyry , E , Hauru , K , Holopainen , J & Parvinen , P 2020 , ' Restoration in a Virtual Reality Forest Environment ' , Computers in Human Behavior , vol. 107 , no. June , 106295 .
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