How One Hospital Is Using Virtual Reality To Change The Lives of Sick Kids

Many types of technologies and artistic creations seek to transport their audience to a new and engaging place or state of being. Virtual Reality (VR) has stepped up the game in this arena by offering VR headsets and games that broaden the range of experiences humans can have regardless of their location, age, and in some cases, abilities or physical challenges.

A powerful example of virtual reality being used to get someone out of their everyday life can be found in the case of hospitalized children at Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. These kids got to try out a VR roller coaster experience provided by the company Oculus Rift.

Unfortunately, children in hospitals are sometimes isolated due to weak immune systems and have a challenging schedule and routine compared to many of their peers. UMHealthSystems share a video of several of the children “on” a VR roller coaster, in which one youth says that this is a type of palliative care he would be motivated to leave his room for.

Upload VR shares that this technology could be used to offer kids virtual social experiences as well, such as watching a movie in VR at the same time as friends while chatting with them.

Of course, VR use can be therapeutic, exciting, and relevant for adults, too. NPR shares the example of Danny Kurtzman, who has muscular dystrophy and was able to experience virtual surfing at Singularity University’s Future of Virtual Reality event. Kurtzman has experienced actual surfing lying down with the support of a non-profit that offers sports experiences to paralyzed individuals, called Life Rolls On. He was ecstatic to experience standing surfing through VR.

Other notable examples of VR overlapping with medicine and psychology come from the work of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which is tackling and experimenting with a wide range of human experiences and capabilities. Their projects include empathy experiments, in which, for example, people experience color-blindness, and those in which people try to control novel avatars, such as those with extra limbs, through what they’ve labelled homuncular flexibility (referring to the homunculus, or the map of the body that is in our brain). Pretty innovative stuff!

It’s important to note that the effects of use of VR by young people (or adults) over long periods of time are still being studied and evaluated. Samsung’s Gear VR is not recommended for children under age 13 and comes with a lengthy disclaimer. Companies creating virtual games that are used or advertised in a therapeutic fashion have to decide when and if to seek FDA approval.

Future of You shares that the company Lumos Labs had to pay $2 million for partial customer refunds when the Federal Trade Commission found it had falsely claimed “its games could delay cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory loss.” Even with these important considerations and serious complications to work out, the possibilities of using virtual reality to improve people’s lives are quite inspiring.

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