For many years, virtual reality (VR) has existed almost exclusively in the world of gaming. However, with the advancement of technology, new possibilities have opened up for VR to enter new areas, such as healthcare.
Initially, VR was used for pain management and treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Now its application in occupational and physical therapy is being explored by a greater number of clinicians.
VR provides an immersive, interactive and stimulating environment for patients to undertake activities that extend their range of physical movement, and to practise tasks they may find difficult beyond their therapy.
The benefits of VR are multiple. VR can be delivered to a remote location (e.g. in the comfort of one’s own home) and can provide in-depth analysis of metrics like heart rate, pupil dilation and sweat in response to various activities. Those activities can then be adjusted according to the physical responses and needs of the patient.
Some four years ago, a rotten tree fell on Michael Heinrich as he motorcycled across his university campus. The accident left him without the use of the lower half of his body. As part of his rehabilitation, Michael’s Occupational Therapist introduced him to VR. For Michael, VR presented benefits; extending beyond the physical to the emotional and mental battles faced by someone coming to terms with a disability.
Indeed, VR has the ability to illicit a response from patients that would otherwise be difficult to achieve, both mentally and emotionally. It motivates, entertains and teaches the brain to go beyond what it thought was possible.
In fact, in early studies, VR has shown to be more effective in rehabilitation than many traditional methods.
Explore the world of VR and its implications for the future of healthcare in the New York Times article: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/technology/meet-virtual-reality-your-new-physical-therapist/.