Philly Rising: With virtual reality and a sandbox, senior care center brings the beach to one resident

Marianne experiencing the beach at the Arden Courts: Memory Care facility
Photo credit Courtesy of the Arden Courts: Memory Care facility
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  At the Arden Courts: Memory Care facility in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a program that helps residents get a wish or special moment come true has fulfilled over 4,000 wishes, including 85-year-old Marianne's dream of going to the beach.

“Every morning while having coffee, Marianne talks about how wonderful it would be to have a nice lobster seafood lunch, go to the beach, feel her feet in the sand, and really just take in the sights and sounds of the shore,” said Carlyn Christopher, an advisor at the facility.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has complicated things that were once simple, especially for vulnerable populations over the age of 65.

“This pandemic has brought challenges unlike anything we’ve ever faced prior. Most of our residents can’t fully comprehend that and that makes our effort and our ability to care for them much more difficult in trying to keep their morale high and keep them as normal in their routine as possible without just saying, ‘I’m sorry you can’t see your loved ones right now because there’s a virus,’ ” said Christopher. 

Before the pandemic, Christopher said they had plans to make an actual physical trip to the beach. But with COVID-19 restrictions, the team decided to bring the beach to Marianne instead as part of the Heart’s Desire program. 

So, with the help of a passionate team and Chickie’s and Pete’s, they got creative to help match the shore experience using a beach chair, a sandbox and virtual technology.

“We were able to stimulate through virtual reality, an actual 360 image of the beach, along with the sights and sounds she would have seen if she were physically there. And that’s what really brought this over the top,” she said. 

Marianne and some friends also enjoyed a seafood meal with her favorite, lobster, provided by Chickie’s and Pete’s.

It was a magical moment for Marianne and everyone else in the room.

“She was thrilled just with her seafood dinner and just with putting her feet in the sand. When we put the headset on her she was in complete awe. She had never seen, felt, or experienced anything like that. She could not have been more grateful,” Christopher said. 

“It was wonderful! I mean, come on, you all try to do everything for everybody. God bless you, everyone one of you,” Marianne said in a video, overwhelmed with gratitude.

“It’s very obvious the joy from her day stuck with her. Having memory impairment, the feelings that you get from a moment like that, that sticks with you,” added Christopher.