In cooperation with the software company Applied VR, Jeffrey Gold – a doctor of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has developed Bear Blast game for children aged 10 – 21 years old. They will play this game while taking blood or changing bandages. Gold’s Children’s Hospital has pioneered the use of Virtual Reality (VR) to manage patients’ acute pain since 2004.
Virtual reality relieves short-term pain
Just wearing the Oculus virtual reality glasses, the patient will enter a world with a towering fortress in front of them. Chubby pink bears will walk towards them. They can control the game by moving their heads, attacking the bears with purple guns, causing them to fall to the ground.
Initially, the design team intended to create a game to shoot bears to make them scream and explode, but seeing that such violent effects would not be effective in alleviating the patient’s pain, they changed change approach.
Pain is not an objective sensation, the context will determine the intensity of the pain you experience. People often experience more pain when stressed, anxious, or overly focused on pain.
Game Bear Blast
Dr. Gold cited the case of 12-year-old Anthony, who often had to play VR games while being treated for a neuromuscular disorder. The game is designed so that the patient only needs to shake his head, without using other body parts. Anthony’s mother said that without VR, the boy would scream and cry loudly every time he injected.
Another case was 15-year-old Ben, lying motionless, completely immersed in Bear Blast while a nurse inserted an intravenous catheter into his chest to treat cancer.
Many studies show that VR is a very effective measure for pain management, especially in highly interactive games. “VR works because the brain can’t distinguish between virtual and real environments,” says Dr. Gold.
“If you’re having fun, your body releases natural endorphins, which are known as nerve pain relievers,” he explains. Many times, due to being too immersed in the game, the children did not even realize the treatment was over.
VR is becoming a treatment for many physical and mental illnesses, from dementia, post-traumatic stress, to phobias.
Psychologist Hunter Hoffman at the University of Washington (USA) also let patients with severe burns play VR games while changing bandages. They will be immersed in Snow World with polar bears and ice mountains. As a result, they are often 35-50% less painful than other burn patients.
Snow World Game
The University Hospital in Heidelberg (Germany) also uses VR to take patients to wander among virtual natural scenes, or take a boat ride on a picturesque, calm lake. They rate the use of VR as very successful, especially for cancer patients who experience terrible pain despite taking painkillers. Their pain decreased by 3 levels after entering the VR tour.
During the use of VR for patients, Dr. Gold has not recorded any side effects. Adults sometimes experience dizziness, but children do not suffer because the middle ear is not yet developed.
It has been suggested that children will become addicted to virtual reality games, but Dr. Gold insists this is only a temporary pain reliever, will not make children dependent on the game.
However, VR will not work for long-term pain or injury. Dr. Gold acknowledges that every pain experience is different, and there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach.
But VR still has a certain effect on short-term pain. CHLA will continue to test augmented reality (AR) – a technology that helps us see virtual objects superimposed on real images, because doctors need to check the patient’s eyes after anesthesia, so it will Need to use AR glasses that can see through.