The combinations of reality and simulation are gaining popularity. Darryl S. Weiman, professor of Surgery at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, says that they are “finishing a new building devoted to simulation.” Simulated operations offer the possibility to practice – without any possible harmful consequences for the patients’ health and without burdening the fast-paced system where patients have to be treated efficiently.
Treating Phobias And Pains
Yes, VR helps ease the process of treatment various… phobias.
One of the most common phobias in the world is arachnophobia, and VR applications like Spider World help effectively treat the fear of spiders. The patient touches a furry toy spider, which is electronically cued to a virtual spider image. The brain unifies the sensory input from sight and touche into a single experience, giving this particular patient the sensation of physically touching a virtual tarantula. Placing the patient in the virtual reality environment allows him to face the source of the fears without any danger. This way, arachnophobics can learn to control and cope with their emotions and reactions.
And those who are suffering from acrophobia – fear of heights – are sent to walk on the roofs of virtual buildings with a gradual increase in a number of floors. There are applications for preventing fear of flying, driving a car, etc.
As a matter of fact, our consciousness is an incredibly powerful “tool” that can completely change the perception of oneself, our body and the world around us. However, the most of us have limited abilities for managing this tool. And here comes another chance for VR to make a difference.
Patients with extensive body burns suffer from severe pain, which can’t be completely removed by using medicine. The remedy? A virtual game called SnowWorld. The action takes place in a winter world, your enemies are snowmen and penguins, and the only weapon you have is a bunch of snowballs. According to the research results, thanks to this game, patients think three times less about the pain.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas have created a program which helps people with a highly active form of autism to work on social behavior skills. With the help of VR, autistics fall into simulated situations: it can be a job interview or a conversation with a colleague about a football match while the program reads and analyzes the brain impulses of the patient. As the study showed, at the end of the therapy session, patients were reported to have increased activity in the brain area associated with social behavior and perception of the surrounding world.
In addition, VR helps scientists explore how a healthy brain perceives the world through the “eyes” of an autistic. This way, a doctor or an ordinary person can see through the VR glasses a “distorted” reality to better understand what does it take to be an autistic person.
The rehabilitation of patients is an essential step on the way to recovery or adaptation. Many patients who have lost their limbs as a result of trauma or surgery, may face a syndrome of phantom pain. They might feel the sensation of burning, itching, tingling or other forms. Until recently, there was a limited number of effective ways to get rid of phantom pains.
At the Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden), doctors connected sensors that removed signals from contracted muscles to a patient with an amputated arm. Then the computer turned them into virtual hand movements displayed via VR glasses. The patient could not only move his “hand”, but even drive a virtual car! The brain receives a visual confirmation that the limb, which controls the wheel, exists and responds to signals. Patients claim that the intensity of pain decreases, and it manifests less often.
Similarly, stroke and brain-injury patients are going through VR therapy during rehabilitation to regain motor and cognitive skills. Dr. Brennan Spiegel, an active VR evangelist, comments: “We preliminary found a 24% reduction in pain after only ten minutes of using a special visualization called Pain RelieVR, created by AppliedVR and administered via Samsung Gear goggles.”
The immersion into virtual reality is one of the most effective tools for fighting post-traumatic syndrome in the military. Some American clinics and hospitals “place” war veterans who experienced a severe shock in the war into a simulated hot spot. This practice helps them to experience their personal emotional turmoil one more time, however not in memories, but in virtual reality. According to experts, this allows patients to “let go” real experiences.
Another compelling case of VR application is the therapy of patients with neurophysiological disorders. For example, the MindMaze’s app tracks a person’s movements and displays them on a screen. According to the developers, while trying to perform the proposed tasks, the brain gradually restores and rebuilds the broken neural connections.
The VR technology makes its huge steps in the healthcare domain, and its impact as you can see from use cases above is already tangible. The variety of devices and software is growing, and one may confidently say that this technology will be increasingly used for providing treatment.