Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Virtual healing

Here's a news topic close to my heart... or at least close to my overworked pain neuroreceptors. A burn-unit doctor at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle is helping to reduce the amount of pain his patients must endure during treatment by immersing the patient in virtual reality. Wearing a VR helmet that provides stereo vision and surround sound, the patient is shown a virtual world filled with glaciers and ice caves, where they can interact with penguins and snowmen. His patients say it works.

"Pain requires conscious attention. Humans have a limited amount of this and it's hard to do two things at once," Dr Hunter Hoffman said.

"In this case, we try to lure attention away from the pain signals by drawing the spotlight of attention into the virtual environment leaving less available to process incoming pain signals."

As a techno-nerd who is in chronic pain, I find the idea of using VR to help manage pain to be very appealing. Anything that distracts me from the pain is welcome... often the weariness caused by chronic pain is more of a burden than the pain itself.