Rehabilitation is Now Made Impressively Easy Thanks to Virtual Reality (VR)
There seemingly are no limits to what Virtual Reality is capable of achieving in the medical field. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that VR and associated technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) will help overcome a myriad of challenges in the medical field and other health-related industries.
From chronic pain management to physical therapy and rehabilitative care for the elderly, there is so much potential for VR. We’ll now take a look at how VR is making an impact in different kinds of therapies.
Exposure Therapy for Fears and Phobias
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET ), for instance, helps recreate situations and experiences that frighten us. Since such fears make us anxious with the sight and sound of the things we fear, being exposed to similar situations under non-threatening circumstances can make us comfortable. This is what VRET helps to achieve. When this technique is used over a certain period of time or sessions, the brain gets accustomed to the situation and gradually the fear fades off.
Since the exposure to these stimulated environments happens with a physician nearby, they are able to monitor the reaction of the patient, making it easy to guide them through cognitive changes.
Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN)
Perhaps the therapeutic and rehabilitative potential of VR can be better understood by looking at the achievements made through CAREN. The University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering is among institutions leading research on the effectiveness of CAREN, whose work, among others is to develop virtual environments such as city streets in order to help researchers calculate the motion of a person’s limbs while walking along the streets. The facility n Melbourne is the hard work of engineers from Motekforce Link and has been used in multi-disciplinary fields for detailed research work. The beauty of it its verified ability in helping mimic a situation thus creating an appropriate response to it.
A case in point is the use of CAREN to develop solutions for injuries picked during physical exercises and sports. The facility is under Dr. David Ackland, Deputy Head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He attests to the efficiency of the facility particularly because of his in-depth studies in muscle and joint function in the human body and how diseases or injury affect motor performance.
“We can accurately evaluate how people generate joint motion pre- and post-operatively. For example, we can look at how a joint replacement is affecting a person’s ability to move a joint after surgery, or how a stroke patient’s balance and fall risk is affected by rehabilitation. The breadth of applications is endless.”
Such a positive outlook from a lead researcher using edge cutting technology gives a lot of hope for to patients and physicians due to the possibilities it represents. And now, because of the new advancements within the VR industry, such results can be achieved with lighter, cheaper and more accessible equipment.
The groundwork that was done by the military to support soldiers who returned with physical injuries and traumatic disorders from the battlefield between 2005-2007 has had a significant impact on the growth of VR. Arguably, this was an unlikely beginning of such developments but one whose contributions are protectively futuristic.
Skip Rizzo, Ph.D., director for medical virtual reality at the University of Southern Carolina Institute for Creative Technologies, who has been actively involved in the military-based initiatives says, “We’re finding out new things all the time.”
Similar to other therapies mentioned above, the fact that you can expose the patient to the factors that cause stress and anxiety, in a safe, controlled environment, can dramatically improve the results of the therapy.
VR brings a whole new world of unlimited possibilities in healthcare and we are barely reaping the first fruits now. The future (present?) holds much more in this regard. VR will change healthcare as we know it.
Simon Wath is a digital enthusiast, multimedia journalist, content creator and communication consultant. He writes on emerging technologies and has covered topics on Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligente, Virtual Reality, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, among others.