While we've looked at situations where virtual reality has been useful in a psychological context, it's also been found to have some therapeutic benefits when applied in patients requiring physical rehabilitation.
Stroke patients have been studied using virtual reality technologies to improve their muscle response after a neurological disability. Given a force-feedback glove (which is used to stimulate resistance), patients were given tasks to gain movement in their hands and fingers. Improvements were retained. Possibly, this has something to do with the motivation of a virtual environment. Most rehab is done in medical offices, and it's been suggested that virtual reality created a more engaging, interesting atmosphere to complete therapy.
Some virtual reality companies also tout the virtual world as a far more interesting place to engage in the often times painful and grueling atmosphere of physical rehabilitation. If you feel the need to get choked up today, cruise online for videos of kids with physical disabilities using virtual reality to play basketball or other sports. A child who uses a wheel chair, for instance, can experience the games without fear of injury. It's a super cool use of virtual reality, and it's not only therapy for the youngster: if you watch one of the videos, you'll probably have a feel-good experience to take with you for the rest of the day.
Author's Note: 5 Therapeutic Ways to Use Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is pretty amazing: it's awesome for recreation, cool for communication. But it's also an extraordinarily effective tool for making therapeutic activities safe, specific and testable. As if you couldn't tell from the piece, there's not a lot more uplifting than seeing dramatically disabled children play realistically physical games in a virtual environment. While it might make sense to test phobia reactions in virtual reality, the idea of pain management and schizophrenia treatment is surprising. Clearly, there's still a lot of room for virtual reality to help therapeutic practice.
- Bohil, Corey J, et al. "Virtual reality in neuroscience research and therapy." Nature.com. December 2011. (Sept. 20, 2012) http://www.pspc.unige.it/~mosip/Virtual_reality_in_neuroscience_research_and_therapy.pdf
- Freeman, Daniel. "Studying and Treating Schizophrenia Using Virtual Reality: A New Paradigm." Schizophrenia Bulletin. July 2008. (Sept. 20, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2486455/
- GestureTek Health.com. "Web site."(Sept. 20, 2012) http://www.gesturetekhealth.com/products-rehab.php
- Hall, Joanna. "Virtual Therapy: How it works for you." Good Health. Nov. 3, 2010. (Sept. 20, 2012)
- Hoffman, Hunter G. "Virtual-Reality Therapy." Scientific American. August 2004. (Sept. 20, 2012) http://www.hitl.washington.edu/research/vrpain/SCIAMFin.pdf
- Knabe, Ann P. "From disturbing reality to virtual reality: doctors use VR therapy to help patients with PTSD confront their demons." The Officer. Sept-Oct 2010. (Sept. 20, 2012)
- Rosencrance, Linda. "Virtual therapy: imagination trumps pain and phobias." ComputerWorld. March 14, 2005. (Sept. 20, 2012)
- The Virtual Reality Medical Center. "Web site." 2011. (Sept 20, 2012) http://www.vrphobia.com/
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