Virtual Therapy

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Virtual Therapy

Virtual Reality

Guest writer Jerry Mooney relates his experience helping his 70 year old aunt experience virtual reality for the first time. She was amazed at how immersive the experience was.

This weekend I got my aunt a Fitbit for her 70th birthday. I was nervous that she might interpret the gift as subtle nag. I prepared mentally for any resistance before I gave it to her, and I braced myself to explain that the Fitbit will not merely encourage her to move, but it was a way creating more data that could aid her doctor in her health care. When she opened her present, after a pregnant pause, she was thrilled and I was relieved. She couldn’t wait to get started, but it appeared that the tap sensor didn’t work. So we went back to the electronics store to swap it out.

Once there, like magic the tap sensor began working and she didn’t need to change devices. Since we were already there, I felt like capitalizing on the opportunity our field trip provided. I encouraged her to try out the virtual reality display. By the bank of the newest cell phones there was a VR apparatus tethered to the counter. I put on the headset, started the program and transferred it onto my aunt’s head. She began experiencing a series of virtual adventures.

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She swam with sharks, flew outside of the International Space Station where she could see the illuminated earth below. She engaged space enemies in spacecraft and watched The Martian from inside Matt Damon’s space helmet. Watching her spin around in amazement with the headset on was as entertaining as the VR itself. Eventually she whipped the device off her face because she had come to a virtual cliff. Her experience was so immersive and convincing it triggered her fear of heights. Her heart began to race and she was overcome with panic.

Slightly worried I patted her back and assured her that she was okay. She looked at me like she had just returned from an actual death-defying adventure. “Wow!” was all she could manage. We left the store, but talked about virtual reality all the way back to her place and the conversation continued at her home. At first she was amazed at how immersive the experience was.

But she was concerned that it could have negative medical implications because it got her so frightened. This was an interesting segue to the potential medical benefits of VR. We talked about how the VR experience is so real that it can aid in making various therapies more effective. Because of this it has become a valuable tool in medicine and therapy. She was thrilled to learn that there were real applications beyond entertainment and she became obsessed.

When she learned about how VR can be used to improve the method and results of physical therapy she insisted she needed to go back and buy one. She explained how, at her age, she was happy to be engaging in fitness, hence the Fitbit, but she worried about things like stroke. The idea that virtual reality can improve recovery by increasing repetition of therapies, then it might also be effective in preventing problems.

Ultimately, she was not ready to buy a new phone that would also be required to make the VR work, at least not yet. But she did indicate she might be easily found at that store if she goes missing.

By Jerry MooneyEmbed


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