Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Social prescribing of virtual reality urban greenness with peer support model to promote mental health among aging population: an effectiveness and feasibility study

Shiyu LU, PhD | Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, City University of Hong Kong; Linyan LI, ScD; Cheryl Hiu-kwan CHUI, PhD
Competition Sponsor: Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China
Award Year: 2023


The COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health problems among the aging population. The Peer support model can help deliver mental health services without overreliance on professionals. Virtual reality (VR) natural environment therapy is an innovative approach to improve mental health, given its efficacy and low cost. However, knowledge remains unclear about how to design VR urban greenness to optimally improve older adults’ mental health and enhance social connection. We aim to develop a protocol for social prescribing of VR urban green spaces using the peer support model and test its feasibility and effectiveness in improving older adults’ mental health. We will adopt a three-phase study. First, we will use the photovoice method to invite older adults to collect photographs/videos of urban spaces in Hong Kong. Then we will understand key attributes of urban spaces that are preferable for the aging population based on the photographs/videos collected. Then, we will develop a 3-arm randomized controlled trial: VR urban green space with peer supporters, preferable VR urban green space without peer supporters, and non-biophilic VR intervention without peer supporters as control group. Lastly, we will conduct focus group interviews with participants to understand the challenges of implementing VR-based intervention among older adults. This model will provide a non-pharmacological approach to improve older adults’ mental health, extending their life year with quality and health, and provide them with volunteering opportunities to help their peers, benefiting their longevity. The innovatively model will also help improve care workforce sustainability given the shrinking of care workforce nowadays.

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