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New VR Treatment Helps Overcoming PTSD

Assistant professor of nursing Brian Peach is in charge of the project, which uses exposure therapy, virtual reality, and real sounds and smells to give patients a sense of what it’s like to be in an ICU.

Patients with serious diseases often have their lives saved by first responders, nurses, and physicians who provide excellent medical treatment. But, many of those individuals will have PTSD, despair, and anxiety after they go back home.

A team of UCF researchers is sure that exposure therapy using virtual reality with real sounds and smells, just like it has helped veterans, first responders, and other patients at UCF RESTORES, a well-known PTSD clinic on campus, will help these patients too. This is because it is similar to what the patients will experience in intensive care.

The research on people who have post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS, is being led by assistant professor Brian Peach of the University of Central Florida’s Faculty of Nursing. Peach has worked as an ICU nurse for 17 years. According to studies, PICS may impact up to 80% of patients receiving critical care. In the first year, almost one-third of critical care patients are unable to go back to work.

Peach claims that the exposure treatment used in his study, which has been shown to be very effective with first responders, military members, and veterans treated at UCF RESTORES, sets his research apart from previous studies that have examined the effects of PICS. High rates of success in overcoming PTSD are much greater among them than among the general population.

A patient wears a VR headset depicting a hospital setting while discussing a traumatic experience with a therapist in a real-world setting. Bedding and walls may be changed to match the patient’s past environments, even down to the gender of the nurse. The therapist may also use the patient’s specific trigger noises and scents.

According to a 41-year-old Orlando teacher who finished the two-week therapy course, the effects of the exposure sessions have been life-changing. She said that when it came to being overtaken by trauma, she was struggling a lot. She still has memories of her hospitalisation, but those don’t consume her thoughts or cause her to feel strongly. Her whole outlook on life has improved as a result.

Due to a heart attack, she was hospitalised for quite some time. The fear of having to return to the hospital prevented her from getting a good night’s rest once she returned. Sounds like those of lawn mowers and a grass whacker took her back to her hospital room, and she had severe panic attacks whenever she drove near a medical facility.

Patients who have already had intensive treatment in the hospital for serious diseases and who think they may be experiencing PTSD are being sought out by Peach. Ten two-hour sessions spread over two weeks are part of the research. Patients who are 18 years of age or older would go through an initial PTSD assessment at UCF RESTORES to discover whether they were eligible. To aid with travel costs, participants who meet the requirements are eligible for two $100 Wawa gift cards.

UCF RESTORES received $3 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to create the virtual reality software used in the exposure treatment in collaboration with the School of Modeling, Simulation, and Training and the Nicholson School of Communication at UCF. With this program, therapists may personalise treatment plans by substituting photos of the patient’s choosing.

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