VR Use in the Realm of Health and Wellness
To many people, VR (virtual reality) is just but another gadget used for entertainment purposes. To medical researchers, VR represents one of the greatest opportunities for a revolutionary new line of treatment for patients with all manner of illnesses and conditions.
Hitherto, there’s been a lot of research into how this unique technology can be used to promote health and wellness.
Use-cases for virtual reality have been rising steadily in healthcare over the last half-decade. Here are the few most notable ones.
Distracting patients with life-changing conditions
Generally, once a user wears a VR headset, they get immersed into a virtual environment with real-looking three-dimensional images, and auditory, visual, haptic, and other kinds of sensory feedback – just like in the real world. The virtual environment is typically fantastical, irresistibly plunging the user into a completely new world.
Given this backdrop, medical researchers have found VR to be extremely effective in distracting patients undergoing depressing conditions such as advanced-stage cancer and other terminal illnesses.
Because of this immersive nature, virtual reality headsets serve to take patients minds away from the realities of their stressful experiences such as undergoing dialysis, chemotherapy, disabilities and more.
Wearing VR headsets help such patients to focus their minds on entirely different things, making their medical realities and treatment less depressing or stressful. As an example, a patient who just lost a leg can walk again in the virtual world, an experience that provides them with great relief.
Treatment of and rehabilitation from cognitive disorders
Other than just distracting patients’ minds, VR use has been found to have lasting positive effects on patients suffering from many conditions of cognitive nature.
Because virtual reality has the ability to generate presence – patients experience it as though it is real.
Immersing oneself in a VR experience allows for the altering of reality by shifting of perception – something which effectively stimulates neuroplasticity (the growth of new neural pathways by the nervous system). These new neural connections and pathways help replace damaged or injured neurons and stimulate learning – good for treating ADHD and other similar disorders.
This happens in both the brain and the rest of the body, which is why using VR can literally change the brain and the body. And this explains how VR headsets are helping to treat social anxiety problems like PTSD and cognitive disorders such as ADHD.
The headsets work by exposing these patients slowly by slowly to various scenarios in a comfortable and safe manner.
For PTSD patients who tend to get troubled, feel anxious or get agitated when they interact with something similar to some traumatic incidents they’ve previously encountered, the use of VR has been found to help them learn to deal with the triggers. They get exposed to similar simulated situations in a controlled environment with therapist support until they develop the needed resilience.
Treating and relieving patients from acute pain
Pain management is a major part of many therapies, medical procedures, and recovery processes. Much of the pain that people usually experience is often the anticipation of pain rather than the actual sensation. The brain has a unique way of selecting signals and sending them to receptors in various parts of the body.
So, by diverting attention from the idea of pain, the body can naturally become unaware of that pain, creating some relief. This is what VR excels at doing.
The immersive technology successfully takes the mind away from the pain, letting the patient feel better as the nervous system works to build new neurons to replace the damaged, painful ones. This is how VR is helping people with chronic pains to get relief.
Today, many healthcare institutions use VR to treat skin-grafting and burn patients due to its effectiveness in focusing patients’ minds on something other than the pain.
Conducting physical therapy and accelerating physical rehabilitation
The results of any physical therapy such as learning to use an artificial limb or an arm that has been operated on are often largely dependent on one’s will-power. Some patients just don’t have such will power, and conventional therapy may turn out to be ineffective on them.
VR comes in as an effective alternative method of conducting such therapies. A child, or an adult learning to use a hand, for instance, will be put through simulated situations that require haptic responses. These could be VR games of various kinds. With time, their hands naturally get accustomed to performing tasks naturally, without feeling like they’re being forced.
These VR experiences facilitate physical therapy by making it enjoyable rather than obligatory to the patient.
For patients with spinal cord injuries, VR is seen to help reduce the amount of time they take to regain sensation and muscle control.
Such patients are usually put inside a VR environment where they walk particular avatars around some field. After doing this in the simulated environment for some time, the patients start to regain sensation as their bodies generate new neural connections guided by their brains, subsequently leading them to recover the ability to walk in the real world.
Patients with balancing issues, bladder control problem and many other physical conditions have all benefited from the use of virtual reality.
Increasing the success of complex operations
Virtual reality is also literally transforming highly complex operations such as intricate surgeries where precision and detailed planning is everything.
What happens is, the surgeons involved in complex processes such as removing cancerous tissue from an organ, or brain surgery, are able to receive images from MRI, X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and more from the respective patients; have them simulated into complete 3D versions of the actual specimens and study them using the VR headgear in a completely interactive virtual environment.
This way, they are able to anticipate complications and prepare countermeasures in advance, accurately planning for the operations in a way that tremendously increases the success rates of these operations.
With the VR market in the healthcare industry expected to reach $5.1 billion in sales by the year 2025, VR spends in health and medical research is bound to grow rapidly over the next few years. Based on these predictions and more, the trend of use of VR in health and wellness is only going to go one way: up.