Most of us would probably associate virtual reality headsets with video games and accidentally crash into our own coffee tables, but at the University of British Columbia researchers are exploring how virtual reality can be used to control chronic pain in cancer patients. .
Dr. Bernie Garrett, associate director of infrastructure and technology at the UBC School of Nursing, is part of the team conducting the randomized control trial.
“People [with chronic pain] end up resorting to very powerful medications, such as opiates, to help control your pain on a daily basis. And so anything that gives them some kind of relief is potentially valuable, ”says Garrett.
The month-long VR trial is conducted with the goal of studying 100 different cancer patients who suffer from chronic pain and who are sent home with all the equipment they need.
During the month, they monitor their pain levels before, during, and after 30- to 40-minute daily sessions, among other factors such as sleep and quality of life, Garrett says.
The four weeks of RV experiences are divided into two weeks of relaxing guided meditation sessions and two weeks of problem-solving activities such as puzzles and games.
He says both types of experiences are designed to take patients’ minds out of pain through a “very powerful form of distraction.”
Garrett, who has experience in technology, says he became interested in the work through his partner, Dr. Tanya Taverner, a pain researcher and assistant professor at the UBC School of Nursing, more than a decade ago.
But VR technology is used for more than just controlling pain.
Through virtual reality exposure therapy, people can work out their anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and phobias by encountering these fear situations in a virtual environment.
“The goal of exposure therapy is to help reduce a person’s fear and anxiety, with the ultimate goal of eliminating avoidance behavior and increasing quality of life,” the website says. of Verywell Mind.
VR is also used to help people regain motor function after suffering a stroke.
Being able to amplify someone’s real-life movements in a virtual environment not only gives positive reinforcement to the person doing the rehabilitation, but it can also speed healing and overall performance, Garrett says.
At UBC, Garrett has also explored how virtual reality can be used in educational contexts.
In health, it is common to use a robotic patient simulator that can mimic pulse and blood pressure rates, but they can be very expensive and can only be practiced in the lab where they are located.
Garrett says companies and manufacturers are working on creating virtual reality experiences that can replace these mannequins.
“This will be particularly advantageous so that people can experience clinical situations in a virtual reality context. They can do it anywhere. They could do it on their own time, ”he says.
There are many more applications for which augmented reality in health can be used. Garrett predicts it will become more popular as time goes on and research continues.
“It’s starting to become a mainstream, and not just geeks and players. In fact, it is coming into everyday life pretty quickly. “