The Organizing Committee and the Spanish Association of Bioethics and Medical Ethics (AEBI) organized the thirteenth edition of the AEBI International Congress that hosted several focused events, including the webinar on ICT solutions for Healthcare. In it our NeuroLandscape VR tool called Eascape was presented to the wider medical and Spanish-speaking audience.
Welcome & opening - Elena Andrade Gomez - Enfermera. Doctora en Salud Pública. Directora de estudios de la Escuela de Enfermería de la Universidad de La Rioja. España.
ENTORNOS NATURALES, SALUD Y REALIDAD VIRTUAL Dr. Weronika Gasior - Lingüista. Doctora en Lingüística aplicada. Miembro del Consejo Científico de Neurolandscape. Jefe de Comunicaciones y Proyectos de Realidad Virtual. NeuroLandscape. Polonia - Singapur.
19:00 - Q& A
DESAFÍOS ÉTICOS DEL e-HEALTH Y EL m-HEALTH - Juan Carlos Oliva, Ingeniero de telecomunicaciones y electrónica. Director de Innovación Sanitaria del Sistema Público de Salud de La Rioja. España.
19:30 - Q&A
FORTALEZAS Y DEBILIDADES DEL E-LEARNING Y B-LEARNING - Vicente Soriano , Médico y Doctor en Medicina. Vicedecano de Investigación de la Facultad de Ciencias de la Salud de la Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR). España.
Eascape, a new VR relaxation app created by neuroscientists and landscape architects, makes it possible to benefit from the healing power of nature without leaving home. The test version of the app has just been launched, as the whole world deals with the consequences of coronavirus waves and lockdowns. It is not a coincidence. In this difficult time creators of the app encourage us all to start looking at VR technology as an effective self-care tool, ready to reconnect us with nature and ease our minds.
An intensive work on the project started almost exactly one year ago – during the first lockdown. We wanted to better understand people's psychological needs in times of confinement, so we conducted the world-wide survey on this very topic. What we have learned was very striking, although not that surprising – at least not to us – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, co-founder of Eascape, then she adds: It turned out that what we, humans, miss the most in such difficult conditions is, apart from being close with relatives and friends, a deeper connection with nature. The pandemic has shown what neuroscientists and environmental psychologists have known for a long time – that being around green spaces is crucial to our mental health and cognitive processes such as memory, attention or creativity.
We need nature more than ever
If we talk about our exposure to nature the situation had been dire even before pandemic, especially in big cities. Science shows that urban, stressful and chaotic environments full of stimulation increase the risk of psychiatric disorders by 38% as compared to rural living. We work long hours in office spaces, away from green scenery, then we go home, where we often stay until the next day, too tired to go out and have at least a stroll in a nearby park. And even if we are keen to spend some relaxing time in green environments – we often simply cannot do so, since due to the urbanization and biodiversity loss processes we have no longer unlimited access to such spaces. This simply cannot be good to our well-being. We need to take action. We must be mindful of what we expose ourselves to everyday, to keep a healthy mind, help with depression and anxiety, alleviate stress, and reduce the risk of dementias – explains Nicolas Escoffier, one of the creators of Eascape.
Landscapes that ease our minds
Eascape builds on the concept of Contemplative Landscapes, an idea conceived in 2011 by Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, as part of her scientific work in Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology. In her research, she found that there are certain characteristics of the scenic views that can influence the human brain to improve mental health and well-being. Contemplative Landscapes should for example contain a certain landform with many layers, natural asymmetry and the depth of the view.
Being surrounded by such scenery we should be able to observe subtle phenomena such as the play of light and shade, trembling leaves or shadows growing and shrinking with the passage of the sun. What adds to contemplativeness of a landscape are also archetypal elements like a running body of water, a path, an old tree or a big stone.
The space should also carry a character of peace and silence, providing comfort and a sense of solitude. It activates our nervous system and a built-in biophilia – a state that exists in all of us since the time when we were still living in close relation with nature – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
VR experience like no other
Eascape is nothing like VR games. It differs even from other VR relaxation apps. Most of the VR apps absorb our attention completely. We have tasks to do, fantastic creatures to meet or new things to learn. All this generates the beta waves in our brain, making our mind work at top speed, and eventually causing mental fatigue. Eascape is not a gaming experience. It works in the opposite way to generate the alpha waves which are characteristic for the state of relaxation and mindfulness. On a daily basis, we have access to such state only through sleep, meditation or close contact with nature – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
The app contains full HD 3D 180° videos, recorded in a scientifically confirmed Contemplative Landscape site: Parchi di Nervi in Genoa, Italy. The user is able to hear the natural, relaxing sound of chirping birds and teleport to four locations across the lawn. The environment has been designed in a very minimalistic way, intentionally deprived of special effects or extraordinary elements. It is a place for soft fascination and gentle exploration that calms down the mind. The whole experience should feel as a pleasant mindfulness practice, available at one’s fingertips. The Eascape team recommends spending 10 min per day in Eascape for 2 weeks to see the improvements in mood. A pilot test showed 32% reduction of depressive mood after just 7 min using Eascape demo, when compared to another VR environment.
Healthy VR environments to the rescue of today’s societies
We are sure that healthy VR environments can make a huge change in the way we as society deal with mental health problems – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo. Desire to help those who need access to nature have brought together the Eascape team which consists of people from all around the world. Growing up, they were all observing different kinds of landscapes, learning how it can affect people's well-being. That was a huge source of inspiration.
When the world of Academia meets VR industry
Among Eascape team members there are scientists from University of Porto and National University of Singapore who specialize in Neuroscience, Environmental Psychology and Landscape Architecture. Why did they decide to go out with their expertise beyond the world of Academia and cross their paths with the VR industry? We wanted to use our knowledge and create a tool that would be accessible and helpful for everyone, especially for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, sleeplessness or burnout, as well as for elderly people who due to their health conditions often stay in isolation – says Nicolas Escoffier.
An invitation to a green peaceful change
A free version of Eascape is being launched right now on Oculus. But that is just the beginning. We dream big. We intend to conduct further research on the app, adjust it to particular groups of users and add new healthy environments based on Contemplative Landscapes from all corners of the world. But for now, we just want as many people as possible to try Eascape and be part of our green peaceful change. Our app is not about replacing nature – that’s simply impossible. But when you simply cannot access it, it is as close as it gets to the real experience – says Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo.
Between 19 April and 12 May 2020, we ran an online survey titled "VHE for Well-Being". Our goal was to better understand people's psychological needs, especially the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. We also aimed to test feasibility and demand for Virtual Healthy Environments (VHE) - our solution for health and well-being. To do this, we developed a questionnaire in five languages: English, Polish, Italian, Spanish and French and shared it through our website and social media (see the call for responses here). Please check out the summary of our work below! A special thank you to all participants who helped us discover these important trends!
We collected 507 (318 female) responses from nearly every continent, but mainly from Europe. Most were from Poland, Spain and Italy, primarilyrepresenting two different socio-geographic zones: South-European (Mediterranean) and Central European regions. There were also contributions from France and the UK to help understand Western European trends.
The respondents were between 19 and 90 years old, with most between 24 and 41 years old (n=294). There were 23 elderly respondents (>65 years old). The largest portion of our respondents was from high-density cities (33%) or large or medium-sized cities (25%). 12% reported living in the suburbs of big cities. This means the majority of respondents (70%) were from the urban population.
Summary of Main Findings
We ran our analysis based on two groups of psychological issues:
1.General mental health & well-being: comprised of the feelings of loneliness, helplessness, isolation, restlessness, sadness or depression, anxiety, worry and uncertainty about the future, higher irritability, and insomnia.
2. Productivity & cognitive performance: comprised of the feeling of boredom, problems with memory, and decreased motivation, productivity and concentration.
Men reported less general mental health issues than women, but stronger productivity/cognitive issues. It looks like women cope better with cognitive performance but are worse with general mental health issues than men. However, it is also possible that women were more willing to report these mental health issues as other research suggests.
A large majority (85%) of respondents missed meeting with friends and family the most during confinement (Figure 8). Travelling and contact with nature were the second most missed activities with59% and 58% of people affected, respectively. Over half (53%) of respondents missed events and socialising, 36% missed going to work and/or school and 37% practising sport.
Did people miss nature?
In our survey, 58% of people reported missing contact with nature during the confinement period. Interestingly, this was an activity missed equally by men and women; people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education.
People living in big cities missed contact with nature significantly more than others (strong link found between city size and missing nature during confinement).
Also, self-employed individuals and homemakers reported missing nature significantly more than others.
Other research shows that people are poor at explicitly seeing the positive health effect of nature: it is good for them, but they are not always aware of it. This makes it challenging to capture these effects in self-reported surveys. This highlights the need for providing education about and evidence for the benefits of exposure to nature on mental health and well-being.
Can Virtual Healthy Environments be a Solution?
At NeuroLandscape we are developing a self-care tool based on Virtual Reality (VR) technology and exposure to nature (read more about the project). It is a solution for all those who cannot access healing natural environments as often as they would like to in order to keep their mind healthy. We addressed some survey questions to test the feasibility of our solution. This will be useful to support our research grant applications. Below are some interesting findings we hope will convince the grantors.
The vast majority (79%) of respondents declared being interested in VR technology. VR use at home and during potential future confinement periods was the preferred situation.
People who declared missing travelling were more likely to try Virtual Healthy Environments.
Women, in general, reported greater interest in using VR for contact with nature and self-care activities than men (32% vs. 17% for contact with nature), while men preferred VR for games and movies.
Other interesting findings
Overall, people reported a decline in mental health and wellbeing due to confinement. However, the effect was not incremental over time (more time confined did not correlate with worse mental health and wellbeing). Our respondents missed meeting friends and family the most, followed by travelling, socializing, and contact with nature. The least missed activity was shopping. Nature was missed more by urban than rural dwellers, but it was equally missed by men and women, people of all ages, across all income brackets, and levels of education. Interestingly, people who missed going to work or school reported worsened productivity and cognitive performance as a consequence of confinement.
This survey has more clearly defined the relationship between Covid-19 confinement and mental health. Respondents were not only able to self-report the effects on their mood, but also shared the degree to which specific activities were missed. These findings were useful in evaluating the potential of the VHE app in helping to mitigate the negative effects of adverse stressful circumstances (such as the confinement period). They show it could be effective to provide a digital tool based on VR for improving mental health.
We would like to thank all participants of the survey!
Survey and Report Authors : Dr Agnieszka Olszewska-Guizzo, Dr Nicolas Escoffier, Dr Weronika Gąsior, Agnieszka Chadała. Full text of the report available through firstname.lastname@example.org
The current global outbreak of #COVID19 makes the problem of our living space and mental health more relevant than ever. Read more in our recent blog post. This is why we need new solutions and new approaches.
Please complete this 5-min, anonymous survey. If possible, share it with your family and friends, with special attention to elderly people, who (that’s our guess) could benefit from our solutions the most.
Virtual Reality (VR) has long been a subject of interest for many to be the next phase of immersive entertainment. While many see it as an unnecessary gimmick, VR was never just a fad. With history dating as early as the 1860’s, VR has time and time again resurfaced more advanced and more capable.
In 2016, IKEA took their furniture experience a step further with Virtual Reality Kitchens. This effectively means that anyone can sample countless different iterations of their own kitchen. This could allow customers to make well informed decisions before they make their purchasers. Yet, this application is not limited to kitchens only. With the application of VR, it is possible to recreate many external events indoors, including contemplative landscapes. While current capabilities may not be fully optimized, the potential for VR to recreate the theraputic experiences of contemplative landscapes is a exploration worth investing in.
The right balance of surrounding vegetation is a key to a restorative experience the VR study confirms. Design for compatibility in the landscape setting is also one of the Contemplative Landscape Features and feeling of vegetation should be somewhere in the middle of wild and tamed.