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Immersive VR reduces cancer patients’ suffering

Immersive virtual reality, a digital technology that allows a person to feel physically present in a non-physical environment, tends to lessen the pain and discomfort felt by cancer patients, according to a pooled data analysis of the available evidence published in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

According to the findings, the technique may also benefit those who suffer from other chronic, severely disabling conditions, such as dementia, renal failure, and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The researchers found that when the price of adopting virtual reality technology to improve patients’ quality of life declined, so did interest in its use. It’s not obvious, however, how helpful they would be in helping people manage the physical and mental side effects of a chronic condition.

To learn more about this, the researchers looked through research databases for studies that looked at the use and effectiveness of immersive virtual reality for helping individuals adapt psychologically to a long-term condition.

In 31 pertinent studies between 1993 and 2023, the approach was applied to individuals with cancer (16), dementia (5), cardiovascular (4), MS (2), renal (2), inflammatory bowel (1), and chronic obstructive pulmonary (1) diseases.

The studies included 30 to 50 individuals, with a median age of 51. Three of the four competitors were women. The normal duration of a virtual reality session is 20 minutes, and it may be given all at once or every day for a specified period of time.

The studies looked at environment-based and game-based immersive virtual reality interventions that aimed to either engage users by teaching them specific skills or behaviours to better manage their condition or to calm them down before receiving medical treatment, such as through a combination of a nature walk and mindfulness meditation.

The study’s combined results showed that participants loved utilising immersive virtual reality and that it enhanced patient outcomes for ailments including cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease, MS, and renal disease.
The experiments that were included used a variety of virtual reality methods, and none of them stood out as being noticeably more effective than the others.

13 of the 31 studies that were considered were feasibility or pilot studies, and 4 additional studies were found to have a high risk of bias. The researchers emphasise that caution must be used when interpreting these findings since reference groups were seldom included in studies and sample sizes were often small.

They contend that the precise impact of physically and mentally demanding virtual settings on patients is currently unknown.

The device may engross and distract users or alter their mental states, the researchers claim, which would reduce their subjective sense of pain and/or increase their ability to manage the physical and psychological impacts of their condition.

The researchers came to the conclusion that virtual reality (VR) immersion therapy may provide a non-pharmacological alternative that is acceptable to doctors. For a population at risk of polypharmacy, these results are positive news. They went on to explain that as VR systems become more accessible, immersive VR therapies may begin to provide cost benefits over conventional pharmaceutical and non-pharmacological treatments.

They continue by stating that further research is necessary to completely understand how the technology works, if any particular form is more effective and under what circumstances, and what, if any, long-term effects there may be.

After examining the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that VR interventions are respectable therapies with the ability to lessen the negative impacts of physical sickness on the body and mind. High-quality research shows that these VR treatments are helpful in reducing pain and suffering, particularly in cancer patients.

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