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The Healing Powers of Virtual Reality

reported by: Gerrelda Ferrand

The Healing Powers of Virtual Reality was a seminar about methods of using the virtual reality for pain control, as a way to teach children suffering from autism and other communication restricting disorders, and as a means for treating Vietnam war veterans suffering from PTSD.

Hunter Hoffman spoke on behalf of using virtual reality for pain control. Hoffman specifically focused on the pain suffered by burn patients during therapy. Hoffman explained how he stimulated a virtual reality environment that would distract the patients while they underwent therapy. The results of his experiments showed that the patients studied experienced less pain by undergoing therapy while in the virtual world. The levels of pain while in the virtual reality were compared to the levels of pain experienced while being distracted by the Nintendo. Hoffman expressed that pain was psychological and that virtual reality “takes your mind.” Hoffman did mention that patients that are highly susceptible to motion sickness were screened out and as a counter argument to that was that morphine also causes nausea. Measurements show that patients who are not sensitive to motion sickness, as the amount of treatments increased the detected values of nausea decreased. Overall results, that virtual reality distracted patients from pain while undergoing therapy.

Skip Rizzo spoke on behalf of using virtual reality to treat patients that suffered a type of brain injury. The reason of the virtual reality simulation was to teach patients a second time, how to do simple things, like make a can of soup. The simulator teaches lessons in a series of steps. One step would be recognizing the can of soup, another would be opening the can, and so on. Studies did show that what the patients learned in the virtual reality was transferable to real life. One example of a case study done by Rizzo was the effectiveness of virtual reality on children suffering from ADHD. Rizzo stimulated a classroom environment that also provided distractions, like a flying paper airplane and a car passing by the window. The purpose of the simulator was to successfully measure the reaction time to the distractions by the children, using trackers that were located on the legs and hand.

Dorothy Strickland did research on using virtual reality to teach children suffering from autism and other communication restriction disorders how to do things like cross the street. Because the children have communication disorders everything was done by demonstration. The in the virtual world, the scenes were set up to imitate the world in the child’s perspective so that the child could relate. One of the problems Strickland encountered while trying to apply her studies to the local schools was the availability of headsets. She then modified her studies by setting up a room of isolation to simulate that virtual world. Strickland also made her software more user friendly and less costly. Children were also taught how to open doors and how to escape fires. Strickland expressed how difficult it was to get results on the effectiveness of the virtual reality world on real life when it came to applying it to fire safety, for obvious reasons.

Larry Hodges presented on the idea of using virtual reality to treat Vietnam veterans who suffered from PTSD. In his experiments, Hodges simulated the surroundings of a typical war scene in a virtual world and recorded the reactions of the patients. One case studied showed a patient talking to someone that was not present in the virtual world. The studies showed that the patients were relating the virtual world back to their memories of the real world that they experienced in the Vietnam War. Because the patients were taught to be numb to their surroundings and just do what they were taught while in combat, when the veterans returned home the were responding to their families the same way. The purpose of the experiment was to help patients be more receptive to their family. While in session, Hodges would ask patients to explain what was going on so that he could later tailor their virtual world to their comments, which made it more real.

Overall, the Healing Powers of Virtual Reality was an interesting seminar and was represented by some very persuasive evidence. The seminare really showed the present and future possibilities of virtual reality and the medical world.


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