Editorial: Medicine is exploring the wonderful possibilities of virtual reality

Editorial: Medicine is exploring the wonderful possibilities of virtual reality

This editorial is the consensus opinion of the Editorial Board of the Daily Herald

Some of the most exciting things to read are advances in medicine – the new discoveries and technologies that allow more people to survive disease and disaster, and ultimately live less compromised, more fulfilling lives.

What fills us with gratitude and wonder this week is the news that Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton has launched a study of adult stroke patients to determine if virtual reality therapy can be a good complement to their regular therapy.

The early stages are promising, as researchers begin by determining how well patients tolerate virtual reality. Marianjoy’s approximately 20 patients will have six sessions – 30 minutes of virtual reality followed by half an hour of conventional therapy per session – over the course of two weeks. Their progress is charted, including the time spent in these activities and the range of motion of the shoulders, elbow, forearms and wrist. A hide-and-seek game with animated penguins is designed to exercise a patient’s cervical range of motion.

The study is led by Dr Mahesh Ramachandran, the hospital’s chief medical officer and stroke rehabilitation specialist, and Dr Dhruvil Pandya, a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield. The doctors hope to publish their findings, but the timing will depend on the ongoing study and the results.

The Marianjoy study will add to the canon of knowledge gathered across the country, examining how virtual reality games and challenges can improve the effectiveness of more traditional physical and occupational therapy for patients, including stroke patients. A recent New York Times article highlighted an analysis of 27 studies done at the University of South Alabama, which found that in general, virtual reality therapy combined with traditional therapy is more effective than traditional therapy alone.

“Everyone we tested gave us positive feedback,” Pandya told our Katlyn Smith. “The next step is to look at clinical outcomes, if this, along with traditional rehabilitation therapy, does it improve outcomes?”

Moreover, virtual reality is also emerging as a tool in other medical disciplines. Last November, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the marketing of the first virtual reality product intended for the treatment of chronic pain. Other studies see uses of virtual reality in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and even in surgery.

How it works? In short, the researchers claim that virtual reality can “push” the human brain in ways that other media cannot, and that it motivates patients to keep going. Basically, it’s fun. And how amazing is it that pleasure can be good for us?

We wish Drs. Ramachandran and Pandya, and their study patients, achieved good results. What is good for them may turn out to be good for millions.

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