The reality of virtual reality is that its use extends far beyond video games and a gimmicky trend. In fact, medical VR is an area with fascinating possibilities and already is presenting opportunities for the development of new treatments in a wide range of fields. Here are just some of the applications of VR within the health industry.
1. Treatment for Mental Health Conditions
The main use for VR in the past 10 years has been in exposure therapy – forcing patients to physically confront that which they fear – as a way to ease or cure phobias and anxieties. By exposing sufferers to the things that trigger their stress or helping people dealing with paranoia with difficult social situations, VR has been shown to positively build their mental resilience. The fact that the wearer can shape the VR experience how they want, rather than be tied to actual reality, adds a powerful advantage and allows therapists to trick a patient’s brain into dealing with a problem. The results have been extremely promising and only continue to grow as VR continues to develop and become more visually realistic and behaviorally accurate.
2. Relief for Chronic Pain Patients
VR has been used extensively to help patients with chronic pain release stress and reduce pain during both during surgery and rehabilitation. With the VR headset, patients can focus on the activities in the game or virtual environment, rather than the pain of chemotherapy or changing of wound dressings. Not only can the hospital experience be improved with medical VR, but the costs of care may also be reduced. By reducing stress and pain, the length of the patient’s stay in the ward and resources utilised can both be decreased.
3. Assisting Physical Recovery from Trauma
Often those who have suffered a stroke, or who are fighting Parkinson’s, struggle with things healthy people take for granted like balance or control. VR has been increasingly researched as a digital treatment to aid recovery for teaching the brain how to use the damaged limb again and speed recovery of control in those limbs. A blend of virtual and augmented reality allows the patient to visualise simple actions through a virtual avatar. Although they might not carry out the actual movement, VR enhances attention, motivation and engagement with visual and auditory feedback and the resulting mental effort help their traumatised nervous systems to recover.
4. Improved Aged Care
VR is also increasingly being integrated within aged care centres as a way of improving the quality of life of its patients. With environments that let them re-experience their memories or give the opportunity to explore new worlds, VR has beneficially helped increase the socialisation of dementia patients. Developers such as BuildVR are also creating relaxing and meditative tools that provide a platform for gamification and diversion therapy specifically for aged care residents and eases the need for medication to treat diseases such as dementia and anxiety. For more on how VR is changing aged care, read the article: 3 Reasons Virtual Reality Improves Aged Care.