How Video Games May Help Burn Victims Cope With Painful Therapy

The Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston, Texas is taking part in a psychological study that examines the effects of virtual reality game on pain tolerance during physical and occupational therapy.

Funded by a National Institutes of Health grant and conducted by the University of Washington, the study uses a video game called SnowWorld with young burn patients to see how the game helps them during physical and occupational therapy. These two types of therapies are collectively called rehabilitative therapy, and are essential to the recovery of patients suffering burn injuries.

As burns heal, the affected areas of the body tend to tighten causing constrictions of the skin, and making mobility a challenge to patients. Therapies and exercises that address these issues are common, but also lead to discomfort. Patients often report an increase in pain levels.

Researchers hope that introducing a gamecalled SnowWorld into the therapy process will reduce the level of pain reported by burn patients and increase the overall success of rehab therapy sessions. Early data from the study have found that patients who use "the game" report less pain during therapy than those not participating. Many patients also reported enjoying therapy more when SnowWorld was part of their sessions.

Researchers say that the design of the game has a lot to do with the game’s design. While the typical video game has storylines, characters, and action, SnowWorld is purposely designed to omit these elements in favor of creating an "immersive distraction." The game is a virtual, visual form of reverse psychology where patients focus on the chilly world and forget about the pain their injuries cause during therapy.

David R. Patterson, a pain expert at the University of Washington, and Hunter Hoffman, director of the Virtual Reality Analgesia Research Center at the University of Washington, are spearheading the experiment. Both have been working with pediatrician and pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Walter Meyer, Research Associate Bill Russell, Psychologist Dr. Lisa Arceneaux and Clinical Researcher Jordan Kampschmidt to collect data on the effects SnowWorld has on the hospital’s pediatric burn patients.

Researchers hope that pediatric patients with burn injuries are helped by this vitual world and enabled to complete more rigorous rehab therapy exercise regimens when SnowWorld is being played.


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