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Hoarders may successfully declutter using virtual reality

According to recent research, combining virtual reality into hoarding disorder treatment and enabling patients to digitally get rid of clutter lowered symptoms and boosted actual item dumping. It implies that technology may provide an efficient remedy for this often-upsetting ailment.

Hoarding disorder is a prevalent and crippling mental problem characterised by continuous difficulties getting rid of or parting with goods because of a sense of needing to keep them regardless of their worth. The illness, which is more common among older adults, may interfere with relationships, social interactions, and employment activities.

About what causes hoarding disorder, nothing is known. It was formerly believed to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) subtype, and the DSM-5 just recently, in 2013, recognised it as a separate mental condition. Additionally, it’s commonly misdiagnosed.

Even after receiving cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a significant proportion of people are still negatively impacted by their hoarding behaviours. An updated Stanford Medicine study has looked at the efficacy of using virtual reality (VR) to treat hoarding problems.

Although some individuals are in extreme need, Carolyn Rodriguez, a senior author of the report, stated that they are unable to visit the homes. Staff cannot approach in a secure manner due to the danger that the tall piles of trash create. But since gaining the ability to let go of one’s possessions is so beneficial, the company has chosen to offer a safe online environment.

Nine people with hoarding disorder over the age of 55 documented 30 items in their home’s messiest room using photographs and videos. Participants may modify their items in the unique navigable 3D virtual settings created from the photographs and videos.

All participants took part in a 16-week online group therapy session that was guided by a therapist and offered peer support and cognitive behavioural techniques for dealing with hoarding. Participants also had private, therapist-led VR sessions from weeks seven through fourteen, during which participants practiced putting their ‘items’ in containers for recycling, donations, or trash, the latter of which was taken away by a fictitious garbage truck.

According to the researchers, employing virtual reality helped individuals comprehend their connection to the items they hoarded and provided a less frightening representation of actual discarding.

For folks who go through a lot of pain just trying to part with their stuff, it’s good to be able to titrate in a virtual environment, Rodriguez said.

Seven out of the nine individuals said they had reduced their hoarding symptoms on average by 25%. Clinical observers’ visual evaluations revealed that eight of them also had reduced clutter in their homes, with an average reduction of 15%. The researchers claim that despite the outcomes being equivalent to those of group therapy without VR, this tiny pilot experiment showed that including VR treatment in therapy was possible, especially for older people.

Rodriguez remarked that she assumed the VR treatment modality would not be effective since the patients were elderly and less likely to embrace the technology. She also had a concern that it would make users dizzy, but that did not happen. Rodriguez said that the individuals subjected to the treatment actually found it to be enjoyable. 

Although some participants thought the experience was artificial, the majority said that VR had helped them let go of their goods in the real world. In order to apply augmented reality (AR), where virtual things are superimposed on the patient’s actual environment, the researchers are hoping that updated technologies will enhance the VR experience.

In any case, the researchers claim that their study helps to lessen the stigma attached to hoarding disease.

Hoarding is often stigmatised and seen as a personal limitation rather than a neurological condition, according to Rodriguez. She emphasised that her team just wants to let people know that there is rehabilitation and compassion for individuals who are impacted by this. They do not have to fight by themselves.

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