Q&A with the community
Q&A with Sherry Law

Sherry Law

Visiting Researcher

Sherry is a visiting researcher at the Centre for Innovation and Research in Aging (CIRA) in New Brunswick, Canada, who has a deep interest in technology and bringing technological solutions and innovations into the therapeutic space to maximize mental health services and humanitarian needs.

Background
Q: One-liner. Tell us a little bit about what you're currently working on.
A: I’m currently working on virtual reality development in aging care.
Q: Do you remember your first-ever VR experience? Where was it, and what was it?
A: My first VR experience was January of 2014 when I received the Oculus DK1. I was at my house using a low end GPU, so after 5 minutes in Tuscani, I had to take a 2 hour nap from all the motion sickness. Oh how far we’ve come.
Q: How did you first become interested in using VR in this particular healthcare setting?
A: Back in 2013 I was still pursuing my Master’s degree and required a topic for research. At first, I was looking into avatar attachment as I knew I had an interest in innovative technological solutions for therapeutic use. Around this time, my grandmother who lived in Hong Kong became ill. Being a highly population dense city, any comfortable living demanded quite a bit of wealth. As a result, I suspected the worst for my grandmother as we are not rich folks. Winter of 2013 in Eastern Canada was unforgiving, so many flights were cancelled and my family could not make it back home. I felt helpless. In that moment, I remembered hearing about the Oculus DK1 coming out and I immediately wondered if I could have provided my grandmother with the simple pleasure of believing, if only for a moment, that she was not in a cluttered apartment, but on the beach or visiting a meadow. From this point, the direction of my work naturally unfurled into potential VR applications for any aging care setting. With funding from the Centre of Aging and Brain Health Innovations and the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, plus support from the Centre for Innovation and Research in Aging at York Care Centre, I was able to complete my work on researching VR's impact on mood in adults in long term care and move into software development for long term care services. 
Let's talk about your work
Taking a resident to the oceans!
Q: Why is right now an exciting time to be involved in using VR in aging care settings?
A: Aging care specifically has been an important topic in New Brunswick as we have one of the highest average population of older adults across Canada. The demand on the aging care system is and will continue to increase as life span rises. It is reported that by 2030, adults above 65 and children below 14 will outnumber working adults in the province. As a result, innovative solutions will be required to address the unique needs of adults utilizing the aging care system. VR is an innovative solution that may be helpful in addresses multiple health vectors of this population. The demands are recognized by government and industry partners, so investments into this sector are not only occurring, but will continue in the near future.
Q: What is it about VR in particular that makes it a good fit for what you’re doing?
A: My formal training is in counselling therapy. It turns out that counselling therapists on average are not particularly interested in technology overall. I have always felt comfortable with technology, whether I’m learning about it or tinkering with it. VR is a good fit for me because there is a dearth of research and tinkering with VR in counselling therapy, making the intersection of these two disciplines open for exploration.
Q: What do you wish your peers and others knew about VR that might be commonly misunderstood or misleading about the technology’s capabilities?
A: I have attended several conferences focused on counselling therapy with a few presenters presenting on “VR”. It is fascinating to me that not all people define VR similarly. I wish my peers, and the industry as a whole in counselling and in aging care knew that VR is defined by its ability to immerse a person into a virtual world and that this experience requires full field-of-view coverage. VR is not the same as using a computer screen or augmenting real world scenes with digital data. These are different modalities.
Senior swims with virtual whales
Onward. What might the future look like?
Q: Do you think there are any underserved areas within healthcare where VR has the potential to make an immediate impact?
A: An area I would love to see VR making a stronger impact is with children and mental health. The visceral experience of VR can be an extraordinary learning experience for children in all strides, but to target children who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect and have VR simulations of healthy coping/modelling of conflict resolution could make a huge impact on therapeutic outcomes. There is work done using VR as a therapeutic intervention in phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, but to translate this knowledge and research in other vectors of mental health would be phenomenal.
Q: It seems like mass adoption is eternally just around the corner. Are there any catalysts that you think might help get us there a bit faster? (regulatory, hardware, new industry entrants, payers, geography, etc)
A: Moore’s law. We just need time and better/cheaper hardware.
Q: Okay, here’s the ‘there-is-no-box’ question: what’s your vision for the potential of VR’s role in the future of healthcare?
A: VR/AR will be as accessible as smart phones. We still don’t have all the applications of smart phones developed/invented yet. The sky is the limit with technology.
Q: You might have inspired some people out there reading this. How should they get in touch with you?
A: Add me on LinkedIn and let’s start chatting!