Virtual Reality Can Be an Effective Tool in Fighting Mental Disorders

Mental disorders’ treatment often requires doctors to conduct a series of attempts which involve tasks of evaluating space perception: different buildings, streets, rooms, etc. These experiments are conducted with the aim of checking what the patients’ reaction is.

Apparently, the task is complicated. Here, virtual reality can be quite helpful. Virtual Environment Human Navigation Task System (Ve-HuNT) is a project developed by Professor Eduardo Macagno from UC San Diego Biological Sciences. His area of research lies in spheres of neuroscience, cognitive research and architecture. This is what has already been said about his development:

“Macagno’s system marks yet another entry in virtual reality’s growing presence in various fields of medical research.”

The system itself is a combination of both hardware and software which allows testing patients with memory loss problems and looks like a “human-scale, interactive, virtual-reality-based ‘room.”
Previously we have reported about yet another application of virtual reality in other fields of medicine. One of them is surgery, the other – post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researched at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

The Ve-HuNT is a construction of five walls and nine HDTV panels (StarCAVE) which provide immersion into virtual reality. The objects there can be viewed from a 360-degrees field of view.

Once in a room, the person navigates his way and fulfills defined tasks (like walking to a specific object or mark) with the help of steering wheel and gas pedal.

“The idea is to give an older person a series of tests and see where they fail,” Macagno explained. “We record how long it takes them, which paths they take.”

One of Ve-HuNT’s significant advantages is that it is relatively cheap and does not require huge funds for its development, with the majority of its elements already existing. Moreover, it can as well be applied in several other medical fields, primarily those which centre cognition as their research area.

Virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift can, perhaps, also be involved. However, Macagno thinks that side effects including nausea and loss of peripheral vision will be significant obstacles to even healthy people, let alone the ones who suffer from the mental disorders, like memory loss.

Currently the team of Macagnos’ developers is working on preparing the pilot experiment of their system. They plan to involve approximately twenty to thirty grown-ups who in different stages and degrees suffer from mental disorders. The area of potential future research is most likely connected with the application of electro-oculography (EOG). The developers hope that the latter will allow them to trace back how exactly people track moving objects.

This first experiment will not involve Oculus Rift headset but perhaps on further stages of research it will be applied. For now vertigo problem puts its application out of the question. However, it couldn’t be ignored that scientists like Macagno, with their huge professional experience, are referring to virtual reality in terms of studying how it can be used in their fields of research. It means that VR headsets have the prospects to be used in areas which are much more important that gaming.

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