A research headed by Hunter Hoffman who is a cognitive researcher and psychologist has revealed that the virtual world is actually more analgesic than pain medication. The findings were arrived at after a comparative study was conducted between patients who received painkillers for easing their condition and patients who were made to go through the experience of a 3 D virtual game called Snow World. Snow World has been devised by Hoffman for patient to divert their attention from the sensation.
The study is focused on the assumption that the brain plays a significant role is sensitising us to the sensation of all. Reaction to pain is a focused activity when me most attention to it. By introducing the Snow World experience, the researchers diverted the patients’ attention from pain. Now the focus was the experience of Snow World. Virtual reality also helped the pain that is felt during the dressing of wounds and wound care. The research used a sample group of 25 people who were more than 60 years old.
The sample was randomly assigned to a high immersion virtual Snow World experience where they had to walk through caves, encounter snowmen, penguins, mammoths and other creatures and where sound effects were available in stereo. Their vision of the real world was completely cut off during this period. The rest were assigned to a low immersion experience where sound was killed, the image resolution was lessened and there was no game like interaction with Snow World. It was found that when a spinal tap of the sample was taken for 30 seconds which stimulates pain in the body, the patients displayed lower levels of sensory, cognitive and emotional components of pain. When the same spinal tap was performed without virtual reality treatment, recognition of pain was much higher.
Researchers first carried out this experiment on burn patients who were admitted to the Harborview Burn Center, University Of Washington. These patients were put on morphine and morphine related painkillers. It sufficed for them when they were resting. However, the pain catapulted to the level of being excruciating at the time of wound care. During that period even morphine and morphine related painkillers provided little or no help. The pain was so intense that it reminded patients of the original incident. This triggered Hoffman and his group to come up with an alternative therapy for pain prevention.
The research has also established that although video games do have a similar effect on pain sensitivity, it is simulation in the virtual world that fares better than painkillers.
Read more articles on Pain Prevention.