5 Ways VR Can be Used for Medical Intervention and Rehabilitation
The role of technology continues to grow in medical intervention and rehabilitation, accelerated by the global pandemic and technological advancement. The development of Virtual Reality (VR) in healthcare has had many significant milestones over the past decades, driven to a large extent by the advancement of VR devices like Oculus, Varjo, Pico, VIVE and many more. And this expansion continues to accelerate today, with the growing expectations for VR integration into healthcare, projected to reach 42 billion USD by 2028.
In our previous article we talked about the importance of Virtual Reality technology in healthcare, the benefits of its implementation and the possibilities. Today, we would like to dive a bit deeper into one of the mentioned implementations - the use of VR for intervention and rehabilitation.
Quite a few research works have emerged in the past decade attempting to evaluate the impact VR experiences can have on both intervention and rehabilitation. They vary in scale and direction, covering VR incorporation into stroke gait rehabilitation, mental health issues treatment, supported motor rehabilitation, cognitive impairment and many more. Thus, we would like to take a closer look at the potential VR can bring for medical intervention and rehabilitation, focusing on five perspective implementation directions such as mental health, life-long conditions, progressive diseases, cognitive function and physical therapy.
The global pandemic has had its toll on individuals worldwide in one or the other way. Just in the US, 4 out of 10 adults have reported symptoms as well as noticed a negative impact on their mental state. Even before the global pandemic Virtual Reality has been a tool frequently used in mental health intervention, starting already from the mid-1990s. The possibility to submerge users into a controlled simulated environment is the main advantage of using VR for a variety of mental health conditions including phobias and PTSD. The immersive experiences allow to simulate triggers and environments that set off the symptoms, while making the interaction paced, safe and supervised. Trigger simulation gives patients the possibility to come face to face with the issue, helping train to overcome the symptoms while being supervised by a medical specialist. VR can be used to create an environment where patients can confront the issues while in controlled sensory stimuli. Virtual Reality capabilities go much further, even having the potential to reduce the lockdown caused negative impact on mental health by providing users with means to keep active, occupied as well as connected to others worldwide.
Life-long conditions affect millions worldwide and reach beyond just the individuals, impacting both their immediate circle and the society in general. Incorporating Virtual Reality into the intervention process makes it possible to engage users with immersive solutions that have the potential to become a transformative tool that supports healthy development and helps deliver benefits across the lifespan. One of the main advantages of VR is the possibility to create or replicate any environment, which allows to submerge users into a scenario without having to relocate, while remaining safe and under specialist supervision. It allows to create environments, where users can practice and learn a variety of skills from improving the cognitive ability, helping with emotional and relationship development, to becoming more independent and maximizing their ability to function and participate in the community. Virtual Reality can also serve as a powerful leverage to educate the immediate circle, caretakers, medical specialists and general society on how people with life-long conditions experience life, helping build awareness and empathy through firsthand experience.
Progressive diseases refer to conditions that progress in severity over time, impacting the general state of health of the patient as well as their quality of life. Over time Virtual Reality has become one of the tools to be used for the rehabilitation processes. Its capability to create engaging, gamified environments allows users to practice routine intervention methods in safe life-like scenarios, helping users adapt and engage in everyday functional activities. Virtual Reality can serve as a motivating and engaging environment that allows users to form neural behavior as well as help patients with progressive disease engage in low pressure physical activities. The possibility to track, record and analyze inside the VR simulations can serve as an additional stimulus, as it helps users actually see the progress they are making, boosting motivation and confidence. The flexibility of VR experiences allows it to be adapted and implemented for users with different levels of disease severity, adjustable for necessary difficulty and physical ability. VR can serve as a tool of great advantage for rehabilitation centers and hospitals especially if combined with traditional rehabilitation methods.
Cognitive functions include several domains from memory, language, perception, executive functions, attention and more. Virtual Reality can help create environments that allow users to practice a variety of cognitive skills in a tailor-made environment. The gamification of the simulations is what makes VR an excellent tool for cognitive function intervention making the rehabilitation tasks and process seem more engaging and appear as less of a routine. VR can serve as a great additional tool to work hand in hand with the traditional cognitive interventions, improving perception, orientation, and concentration functions. Immersive simulations help users feel present and concentrated, providing an opportunity to practice tasks and functions broken down into smaller steps. High visual fidelity helps form stronger cognitive connections, allowing for an easily information perception. A great advantage of VR is in its capability to be used remotely, enabling patients and medical specialists to interact from different locations. This can be especially helpful in the times of ongoing lockdowns, as it allows to continue supervised rehabilitation without having to be physically present at the medical facility.
Integrating Virtual Reality into physical therapy can serve as an engaging tool that can keep users focused on the task as well as support the level of motivation, adding a sense of challenge thus a sense of accomplishment to the experience. The gamification elements of a VR simulation can help make the physical therapy process feel more natural as it replicates the real-life activities and surroundings. The immersive experiences can be built for a different level of difficulty as well as combined with a treadmill or any other device or object used to physical rehabilitation. The possibility to make low impact VR experiences enables users of different capacity to practice skills and complete tasks at their own pace. The capacity to track, record and analyze serves as a great additional motivation for users and provides necessary data for the medical specialists to manage and direct the physical therapy process. In addition, the mobility of standalone VR headsets and their vast availability allows users to engage in VR enhanced physical therapy remotely, however still under the supervision of a medical specialist. Thus combining the VR simulation with existing physical therapy methods can serve as a beneficial tool for patient recovery.
Even though more studies are still required to evaluate the full scope of benefits Virtual Reality can bring to healthcare and particularly to intervention and rehabilitation. It is becoming evident that more and more medical specialists worldwide utilize the power of this immersive tool in conjunction with traditional methods and practices. The further healthcare evolves as an industry the more technology will become entwined in the regular practices, allowing medical specialist and patients to achieve more.