Deemed an epidemic plaguing the young American population, distractions caused by hand held technology is a prevalent norm in modern society. Personal technology, like smart phones are also prevalently deemed as a threat to modern society. Since the inception of personal technology, an on going social debate about “those young people and their d@#! phones” has influenced many scientific studies on the effects of immersive technology. Often times older generations demonize technology with the fear the online reality is distracting many from “the real” human experience.
What the neigh-sayers fail to realize, distraction is a simple and timeless concept every human has mastered. Before technology, people have been distracting themselves throughout history with… basically everything else (music, books, movies, newspapers, or you know, talking to one another etc.). Whether you are distracting yourself from a painful needle or distracting yourself from painful afternoon boredom, humans avoid anything unpleasant at all costs. The concept of distraction is not new and never had much of an agreeable connotation.
Distraction is Good…?
However, recent medical studies have revealed new value for distraction through pain management. New pain relieving methods are utilizing the distractive properties of immersive virtual reality to cure pain. Medical studies examining the validity of immersive technology on pain treatment have been popping up in hospitals and medical clinics around the medical world.
In a clinical study published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, pain levels examined in women during episiotomy repair revealed to be notably influenced by immersive technology. The experimental group of subjects was given a local anesthetic and virtual reality glasses to wear during the repair treatment. The control group received only anesthesia. The results signified “that the clinical use of virtual reality (VR) with local anesthesia can reduce pain during the episiotomy repair more than those receiving standard care.” Although virtual reality was not the main treatment for pain in this study, it was concluded immersive technology is effective in inducing pain relief and in complementing traditional pain treatments.
Recently published in Royal Society Open Science, another study examined healthy young adults and the effects of different sensory immersion on pain tolerance. Participants of this study were selected from a New York college campus and placed into a driving simulator complete with virtual reality headgear and noise-cancelling headphones. The participants were instructed to immerse their non-dominant hands into 1 degree Celsius ice water until the pain was unbearable. Data was collected on the pain tolerance of the subjects while gaming and simultaneously soaking one’s hand in freezing ice water. Researchers concluded the combination of audio and visual immersion elevated the tolerance levels of the participants.
New Age Innovations
Seeing success for those with mild to moderate pain, innovative problem solvers are aiming to apply these new technological pain treatments to those suffering from chronic pain. A conservative estimate claims 1 out of every 5 people experience chronic pain on a daily basis. For those who suffer from chronic and consistent pain, being distracted all day by virtual reality is not a feasible solution.
Leading the way, Dr. Diane Gromala, Canada Research Chair and an expert on the virtual reality of pain, is spearheading new innovative virtual reality treatments for chronic pain victims like herself. However, Dr. Gromala is adding complex dimensions studying virtual reality treatments. Fascinated by the internal workings of the human body, Dr. Gromala is switching the focus from the five outward physical senses to the more than 100,000 senses located inside the human body. Unlike previous trials which implemented gaming stimuli, Dr. Gromala wants to pull the participant’s focus inward to the abundance of senses most do not notice.
To achieve this, interactive gaming such as simulated racing is not applicable. Instead, Dr. Gromala’s innovative methods draw a hidden parallel to the sensation of meditation and the sensation of virtual reality because both types of sensations produce sensory confusion. While meditating or using virtual reality, one’s conscious could recognize the body is flying or moving. However, the senses become confused when one’s body recognizes gravity anchoring the body to the ground.
As a result, Dr. Gromala is capitalizing on the connection by combining meditation, mindfulness and virtual reality to relieve chronic pain. A method already implemented, Dr. Gromala created a virtual meditation booth. Participants are presented with a virtual jellyfish via virtual reality glasses, which responds to the participant’s energy such as stress. As stress decreases and the person increasingly reaches a meditative state, the jellyfish slowly disappears.
Dr. Hunter Hoffman and Dr. David Patterson of Washington University have collaborated to bring the curative powers of virtual reality to burn victims with chronic pain. Influenced by Dr. Gromala’s work, SnowWorld was designed to reduce pain during on-going wound and burn treatment. Implemented in clinical trails, SnowWorld consists of a winter wonderland complete with interactive penguins, polar bears and other arctic animals. The results have procured dramatic decreases in pain and reduction in patient anxiety. Patients were so immersed in the virtual reality that they were unaware when the procedure had completed.
Although virtual reality as a standard pain treatment is still in its research phase, promising medical results are continually appearing. As more people turn away from traditional drug regiments, virtual reality is one of the most trending and progressive treatments in alternative cures.