How Augmented and Virtual Reality Can Be Good for Your Health

How Augmented and Virtual Reality Can Be Good for Your Health

By Dean Lobo - DaBR Journalist

If you feature among the uninitiated in Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), a recent example you might be aware of is Pokémon GO. Developed by Niantic, this AR mobile game became a global sensation in 2016. It was hardly an anomaly to see gamers convene at public Pokémon GO does to battle, train and of course, capture digital monsters in real-world locations.

But the game became a talking point for not-so-good reasons, too. Reports and studies highlighted how Pokémon GO had caused a notable spike in traffic accidents with people playing it while driving. According to a 2016 news report by The Star, police forces across Canada warned about the risks involved in playing such AR games. It highlighted how a car “driving strangely” injured two officers in Quebec City. #DontCatchAndDrive was employed by some police services in their public appeals for safety.

VR TO HELP MANAGE MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS

In addition, there have been several mentions of how VR technology can be used to manage a host of anxiety disorders. According to a 2015 CBC Radio report, as many as one in five post-war countable soldiers suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In his piece ‘Virtual medicine: how virtual reality is easing pain, calming nerves and improving health,’’ Brennan MR Spiegel talks about studies being done on the capability of VR to treat these veterans. Additionally, Dr. Skip Rizzo of University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies has also studied this effect in-depth. Using an in-house developed VR program named ‘Bravemind,’ where veterans can be placed in a war scenario virtually, inclusive of vibrations, the sound of blasts, and relative smells to enhance the experience, Rizzo inferred that veterans given constant exposure to the program could witness a drastic improvement in their condition. In fact, according to the university, VR’s capability to treat PTSD is evident in studies and reports in which patients responded well to VR Exposure Therapy when other imaginal Prolonged Exposure (PR) therapy methods did not show positive results.

Moving beyond the formalized studies of the benefits of VR/AR in medical treatment, for many, their personal trysts with VR/AR have helped overcome social anxiety and depression. On Reddit, user ColonelMcKernel writes about how engaging with the Oculus Rift (VR goggles that work with your gaming system) helped overcome extreme anxiety. ‘My whole life I've always experienced some form of social anxiety. In the past 2 months, it was at its worst. The thought of going to work would ruin my whole day...’ the post reads. The user points out that it was the Echo Arena experience that helped better the condition.

According to this user, the idea of conversing with someone in VR actually treated their phobia of talking to people in real life: ‘I find myself a lot more social than before. I started to feel a lot more confident in my day to day tasks... VR has initiated a lifestyle change for me and I generally feel a lot better.’ Similarly, another Reddit user, Butterfly-Project, writes about how engaging with VR helped temporarily forget about depression. There appears to be a sense of catharsis expressed in these stories that many gamers experience while engaging with this technology. The number of positive responses in both threads only highlight that there’s a growing informal and anecdotal community that recognizes the benefits of VR/AR to health.

CAN A VIRTUAL TRIP TO THE BEACH MAKE YOU SING?

A recent YouTube video shows VR technology being used to transport patients with dementia to tropical locations around the world. Replete with visual and realistic special effects (SFX), results have seen these users singing and reminiscing about their past memories. According to the World Health Organization, over 50 million people have dementia worldwide, with as many as 10 million new cases each year. The Alzheimer Society Canada further notes that the number of new cases of dementia in Canada every year is 25,000, with 16,000 being the number of Canadians below 65 years of age with dementia. Such patients suffer symptoms including memory loss, mood change, and depression. With these statistics in mind, it’s amazing to see how VR could actually be used to treat such conditions.

The Alzheimer Society Canada notes that the annual cost to Canadians to care for people with dementia alone is a whopping $10.4 billion. But, the good news is that VR/AR technology has become more accessible and cheaper. This means that more people would have a reasonable access to such technology for treatment, or even leisure for that matter. There’s a growing populace endorsing the benefits of VR/AR to our physical and mental well-being. Research in this regard continues, but as Spiegel writes, it will not be long before doctors prescribe virtual beach vacations to soothe aches, or psychiatrists turn to virtual dinner parties to treat social phobia.

Have you experienced positive effects of VR and AR to your mental and physical health? Get in touch with us to share your story!