VR used to treat anxiety in adults with disabilities
A first-of-its-kind study has found adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities may experience improvements to symptoms of anxiety and depression after using specially designed virtual reality sensory rooms.
Sensory rooms have been utilized for decades to help manage distress, behavior and emotional regulation in subjects with neurodevelopmental disabilities. Through visual, auditory and tactile devices, these rooms have delivered promising improvements to a variety of users despite a lack of uniform approaches.
"While there is some consensus in the literature of the perceived benefit of traditional sensory rooms, requirements of physical spaces present logistical issues," the researchers write in the new study. "This potentially limits access for a range of users, particularly people with disability who may have limited access to required resources."
So a potential solution to this accessibility hurdle is virtual sensory rooms, accessed using VR technology. And in this new research a VR sensory space called Everness was trialed in 31 adults with varying levels of developmental disability.
"Quantitative findings indicated improvements in anxiety and depression from pre to post, with changes in sensory processing, but no significant changes in adaptive behavior or personal wellbeing," reported the researchers. "Qualitative findings indicated that participants perceived there was a positive impact on anxiety as well as enhanced social participation."
These findings, of course, are preliminary and limited by a small sample size. The study also only explored a single, relatively short, experience with the VR system, and didn't include a control group.
Co-lead author on the study Danielle Tracey, said more work in the future will better explore how to apply this kind of VR technology into clinical contexts. But the early data is promising, according to Tracey.
"Given the preliminary nature of this study, we are pursuing more robust future study designs to better understand the benefits and ensure the program can be used in real life environments to support the people that need it," Tracey added.
This new study is just one of several clinical applications for virtual reality currently being investigated. Initially, researchers were mainly exploring VR for psychotherapeutic purposes, such as exposure therapy for fears of spiders or heights. More recently, VR has been floated as potentially useful as a replacement for sedatives during surgery or as a novel way to diagnose ADHD.
The new research was published in Scientific Reports.
Source: Western Sydney University