Concussions can be a big deal, no matter what age you are. Sports-related concussions have a massive spotlight on them right now, and doctors all over the world are encouraging people to take them a lot more seriously. Treating a concussion takes a personal approach, identifying the individual symptoms and applying the appropriate techniques until things like dizziness, migraines, and a loss of balance are resolved. For many people, treatment means weekly trips to a physical therapist trained to apply a series of increasingly complex exercise until your brain can return to handling those tasks without issue.
It turns out a lot of the techniques used in vestibular and ocular therapy to help treat concussions can be enhanced dramatically with room-scale VR, a concept recently tested with an HTC Vive and the Steam VR game Audioshield.
It's hard to find a downside to using VR in a therapy environment.
Not too long ago, the 10 year old Gymnast that is my daughter tumbled down a flight of stairs and landed herself in physical therapy for issues with headaches, dizziness, and balance. Vestibular therapy includes a lot of eye movement and practicing hand-eye coordination, repeating with greater complexity as she progressed. The hand-eye motion looked an awful lot like what happens when you play a couple of VR games — specifically the music-punching game AudioShield.
My initial reaction to this realization is to say nothing. After all, perfectly healthy kids using VR is something that has to be done with care and attention. It's important to ensure they don't use the headset too long so eye strain doesn't become a problem, and in many VR games it can be easy to lose your balance if the world moves and your brain doesn't think it should. Between the cue correction and the existing brain trauma, I left it alone. My spouse, however, brought it up to the therapist the next opportunity he got.
Not that long ago, many physical therapists were excited about using Nintendo's Wii controllers in physical therapy. By making the physical activity a game, the tasks become more engaging for the patience and it becomes easier to encourage someone to push themselves just that little bit further. Pivot Therapy's Rachel Craig, who had been a big fan of using the Wii in therapy in concept, loved hearing about the HTC Vive and its capabilities. A demonstration was in order, and so for an afternoon we set up a Vive and demonstrated what AudioShield was all about.
There's no one way to heal from a serious injury, but VR can offer a massive variety of things to try.
To say this idea was a hit is quite the understatement. Not only were all of the therapists in the office in love with the thought that VR could be used for therapy, but every patient in the office during the demonstration was eager to give this a shot. Between gamifying exercise, adding music to your workout, and immersing yourself in a virtual world, it's hard to find a downside to using VR in a therapy environment. When asking Craig about the experience after, she was more than a little impressed. "I think it's very cool, and this is perfect for vestibular and ocular therapy. We're seeing more children with concussions in this office, and this would be an incredible tool. Really, this is something just about everyone here could use."
Seeing all of the excitement for applying this tech to helping people get better is deeply satisfying. Having spent several years in physical therapy myself for several serious injuries, it's not hard to see how VR could encourage someone injured on the job to push themselves a little closer to healing instead of sliding into depression due to lack of progress. There's no one way to heal from a serious injury, but VR can offer a massive variety of things to try.