Video games aren’t just for fun — researchers keep finding more and more inventive ways to apply the technology in immensely helpful ways.A study by anesthesiology professor Sam Sharar of Washington University found that virtual reality games can serve as a distraction for patients undergoing painful medical procedures and significantly reduce their pain — especially for the elderly. (via DailyMail)
The study took 25 elderly patients (60 or older) and performed thermal simulations of the pain a person experiences during a lumbar procedure — commonly known as a spinal tap — all while the subject plays the virtual reality game SnowWorld.
The patients were separated into two groups: low- and high-immersion. The high-immersion group played the game with stereo sound, in-game action (throwing snowballs with a click of the mouse), and a display that blocked out the real world. The low-immersion group had no sound or interaction, and used a more traditional screen that didn’t block out the real world.
The results? Both treatments resulted in less sensory, emotional and cognitive pain, but much more so in the high-immersion group. This is great news for chronic pain sufferers, who often don’t respond to traditional anesthetics.
Virtual reality therapy has been used in recent years to treat anxiety disorders and phobias, and is now a key treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. The method is increasingly being used for reducing pain during procedures for burn victims, a particularly painful type of injury to heal.
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