Virtual Reality as a Powerful Tool in Medicine

Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is one of the most important applications of Virtual Reality (VR) and Simulation technology. VR has proven to be an efficient tool due to the ability of a computer to provide visuals, sound, and in some cases other sensory information such as touch, which replicates a physical situation as closely as possible, but only in a virtual sense.

For example, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be treated with VRT. It is a disorder that occurs when an individual experiences traumatizing situations which embeds a feeling of powerlessness and horror in the individual. Through VR, more than 70% of soldiers who were suffering from PTSD after the Iraq war have seen improvements. Similar results are obtained from the use of VR in Computerized CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) where at a research level, several mental disorders have been diagnosed accurately and treatment has been prescribed.

With the advent of new consumer level VR technology, such as the Oculus Rift and other HMD (Head Mounted Display) systems which provide the user with visual experiences that are very close to the real situations, and other peripheral developments to track movement and motion, it is now possible to provide all sorts of sensory information to the user for any given situation.

Using this computing capability to treat and help people suffering from perennial and genetic disorders such as Autism, Down’s Syndrome (DS) and other genetic disorders is a new area of exploration for using VR in medicine and treatment. Currently children suffering from such genetic disorders are given special training by qualified and dedicated teachers and parents who work in co-operation with them day and night in order to provide assistance in dealing with real life situations. However, there are limitations to this method of teaching which may be augmented by including VR based teaching with human assisted training.

The use of Virtual Reality to tackle this issue has a great future from both a medical and business perspective. The power of computing and providing sensory information is the key to making this technology possible. Researchers at the University of Haifa, Israel have made excellent studies on the use of VR to treat Autism. Their collaboration with MERL’s Diamond Touch (DT) hardware, a multitouch interface to assist learning, has been an extremely powerful tool in improving communication and social skills along with improving academic and functional abilities.

Another similar situation is in simulating traffic signals and road crossing scenarios which cannot be implemented in reality due to the inherent danger of the scenario, but in a virtual reality situation, those suffering from anxiety can receive treatment in safety. This research performed at the University of Haifa has been extremely effective in treating children suffering from Autism.

Although using VR for treatment of such disorders is becoming more accepted, the idea of further research and developing this technology to a consumer level product which enables best treatment techniques from one part of the world to be available to every individual suffering from this disorder is still in its infancy. The use of any technology is judged by its potential to influence and change humanity, and the ultimate goal of many VR researchers is to move beyond gaming services to develop technologies that can change individuals’ lives and help them become better, more capable and healthy people.

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References

Delavarian, Mona; Afrooz, G Ali and Gharibzadeh, Shahriar, “Virtual Reality and Down Syndrome Rehabilitation.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 24:2, Spring 2012

Josman, Naomi; Ben-Chaim, Hadass Milika; Friedrich, Shula;Weiss, Patrice L, “Effectiveness of Virtual Reality for Teaching Street-Crossing Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism”, International Journal of Disability Development and Education (Impact Factor: 0.59). ;7(1):49-56; 01/2008;.

“Virtual reality treatment for autism.” Virtual reality blog.  Retrieved 17 Aug. 2014. <http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-healthcare/autism-treatment.html>

Gal, Eynat; Bauminger, Nirit; Goren-Bar,Dina; Pianesi, Fabio; Stock, Oliviero; Zancanaro, Massimo; Weiss, Patrice L. (Tamar), ” Enhancing social communication of children with high functioning autism through a co-located interface”, AI and Society, the Journal of Human-Centred Systems. ; Vol 24; 01:2009.

Image Credits

Blue Room ISV;

Marc Ambasna-Jones; Virtual Reality Addresses UK Kids’ Autism and Phobias; web page IDG Connect; July 08, 2014 <http://www.idgconnect.com/abstract/8509/virtual-reality-addresses-uk-kids-autism-phobias>