Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting new development in gaming, but the uses of this technology go far beyond simple play and escapism. Researchers are finding numerous ways in which virtual reality can be medically useful. Now, studies are showing that it could help children with cerebral palsy (CP). Therapy and treatment with VR could help children develop better motor skills, resolve some movement challenges and even relieve pain.
Virtual Reality and Medicine
Using virtual reality for medical reasons sounds like something out of science fiction, but it is very real. VR is the use of technology to simulate a three-dimensional environment. Those using it typically wear a helmet or goggles with a screen as well as gloves and other equipment and sensors. The user experiences an environment that seems real and that can induce all the sensations and responses of a real environment.
In medicine researchers are using it to treat psychological conditions, like anxiety and depression. In medical schools virtual reality is helping students learn and experience the inside of the human body. Surgeons are starting to use the technology to plan and practice difficult surgeries. Most importantly for children with cerebral palsy, virtual reality is beginning to help people with physical therapy, mobility, and pain management.
Studies Testing VR in Children with Cerebral Palsy
Children with cerebral palsy may have a wide range of symptoms of any degree of severity, but generally this condition causes issues with movement, muscle tone and control, balance, posture, and other types of motor function. Virtual reality therapies tested focus on active games that may improve any or all of these.
One recent study compared a group of children with cerebral palsy to a control group of children of normal physical development. Both groups were asked to complete a task before and after practicing with virtual reality. The task was to use the arms to match movements to the rhythm of a song. The children with CP improved after VR practice, while those without CP did not. Researchers concluded that virtual reality practice could help improve muscle control.
In other studies, similar positive results were found. For instance there have been studies showing that virtual reality therapies can improve a child’s arm function, posture, and walking. An interesting finding was that commercial VR sets were less useful than those engineered for children with CP. Future therapies may require specialized equipment to help children make significant improvements.
The Future of VR for Cerebral Palsy
Virtual reality is not that new, but it has only recently been accessible to more people. As researchers begin to see just how beneficial a created reality can be for all kinds of patients, more studies are likely to find even more uses for it.
For children with cerebral palsy and their parents, this is exciting and hopeful. Not only are there current studies showing VR can help with movement, researchers are continuing the studies with actual clinical trials. In one trial, for instance, children are using virtual reality to play games that require physical movements. Researchers are determining if the addition of this kind of gaming to traditional therapy will improve motor function.
More study is necessary, but there is a lot of potential for VR to be a valid, useful, and safe therapy. For children with cerebral palsy, being able to play games to heal and move better is not just fun, it’s also treatment.