Easing Chronic Pain, Anxiety and Depression

These images from an MRI scan show areas of the brain affected by pain, and how those activated areas quieted down for one test patient who donned a headset that immersed the patient in a virtual reality world. Courtesy of Dr. Sam Sharar/University of Washington

“There are over 100 clinical research papers that are already published that show proven positive clinical outcomes using VR in managing chronic pain, anxiety and depression,” she says. “And in dementia patients, all those three elements are very common.”

For example, in the 1990s, pioneering researchers at the University of Washington developed SnowWorld, an icy virtual environment that reduced pain for burn victims during wound treatment. More recently, Dr. Albert Rizzo’s lab at the University of Southern California has helped military veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, by offering exposure therapy in virtual environments. The Veterans United Foundation has created virtual reality experiences of veterans’ memorials, for vets who can’t travel to see them. And scientists at the Chronic Pain Research Institute have tested a virtual meditative walk meant to help users manage pain and stress.

GOAL TWO

SHARE MEMORIES

Seniors can revisit their childhoods by viewing images of their homes, towns and neighborhoods.

GOAL ONE

DECREASE LONELINESS

Virtual reality is an excellent tool to decrease social isolation of seniors

GOAL THREE

EXPLORE THE UNKNOWN

Seniors can travel to places they long hoped to visit without ever leaving their seats.

Social Isolation

Social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons, including retirement, the death of friends and family, or lack of mobility. Regardless of the causes of senior isolation, the consequences can be alarming and even harmful. Even perceived social isolation – the feeling that you are lonely – is a struggle for many older people. Fortunately, the past couple of decades have seen increasing research into the risks, causes, and prevention of loneliness in seniors.

While Virtual reality has been embraced by both gamers and the corporate world, its applications go beyond business and fun. VR could help reduce social isolation in older people. Studies have shown that seniors usually enjoy their VR experiences and usually go back to their friends at their table and talk about what they experienced. Many of them have even made new friends who want to learn about their experience with VR.

Explore The World

When we let clients use our technology, they feel like they have been transported to locations across the globe.  They can experience Hawaiian beaches, French cafes, and the Swiss Alps.  They can view the solar system aboard a rocket ship or use a paint brush to create a van Gogh from the artist’s point of view.  The options are endless.

Sparking Memories

VR has also been used to help trigger long term memories and improve communication skills. An aged care-home in Australia is reporting positive results in virtual reality sessions with residents. Originally introduced at two Melbourne aged care-homes as a means of entertaining residents, Mercy Health Lifestyle and Volunteer Manager Karren Gooding said the short virtual reality sessions have had unexpected results.

For the past five months Gooding has used the headsets regularly with 22 patients living with dementia for sessions over one, two and four day periods that take them on virtual tours designed to trigger early memories.

One elderly patient at mercy, shown a virtual tour of Rome and Venice, had long-term memories about his boat trip to Australia.  He was able to tell them about his trip coming to Australia, the different vegetation between Australia and Italy, and he spoke about his experiences on the boat.

Another resident, an 86-year-old musician who hadn’t communicated with anyone for months, began tapping her foot in time when taken on a 3D virtual tour of an orchestra. Her husband reportedly was in tears because he hadn’t seen her move like that in months.

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