Virtual Reality Helps Troops Confront Pain

By Eric Beidel
The Pentagon wants to discover different ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, one of which will take patients back to war via a video game-like simulation.

Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the Emory University School of Medicine will study 300 military and civilian personnel diagnosed with PTSD after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. They are working under a four-year, $11 million grant to test different therapies.

During virtual reality treatment, a patient wears goggles and earphones as a therapist controls 3D digital scenes made to resemble the locations where a traumatic experience occurred. Memories are further piqued during the sessions by sensory triggers such as chairs that vibrate to simulate an explosion.

Virtual reality may work better for patients already familiar with similar technology or who are hesitant to take part in traditional exposure treatments, which essentially require them to repeatedly recount their traumatic experiences to a doctor, researchers said. Their goal is to determine which kind of therapy works best for which patients. They also plan to look at genetic and other factors that could impact someone’s chances of developing PTSD.

The researchers on the project have created virtual reality systems to treat PTSD in veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11 survivors. They have used a modified version of a video game developed at USC to bring to the treatments the sights, sounds, smells and sensations of war.

More than 50 Veterans Affairs and university clinics already are using two of the virtual reality systems.

Topics: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, ComputerBased Training, Videogames

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