Last month I blogged about how playing video games keeps the mind sharp; however keeping your mind sharp isn’t the only benefit. Studies have shown that video games can help in managing pain. The distraction provided in playing video games temporarily helps people in pain to forget about much, if not all, of their pain while playing.
Loyola University Hospital is using an interactive video game called SnowWorld to help burn patients during their recovery. Playing SnowWorld during treatment puts burn patients in a cold, snowy virtual world of snowmen, penguins and polar bears. By emphasizing coolness, the patient is focused on the game, leaving less attention for the processing of incoming pain signals.
During treatment, a patient wears a stereoscopic, position-tracking helmet that displays a world of three-dimensional graphics. The system is equipped with headphones for sound effects and a mouse that allows the patient to throw snowballs.
Recent MRI studies at the University of Washington, Seattle, found that virtual reality actually reduces the amount of pain-related activity in the brain, and other studies in Australia and Israel have shown that burn patients undergoing wound care report that their pain drops dramatically when they are engaged in virtual reality programs.
Virtual-reality “games” have further application beyond burn care. It’s been used to help people overcome phobias and post traumatic stress syndrome. It has also been used in urological procedures, dentistry and to control pain during physical therapy for cerebral palsy patients
There is another medical benefit from video games as well; research has shown that surgeons who play video games have enhanced their hand-eye coordination and spatial orientation and have 27 percent fewer errors and accomplish tasks 27 percent faster.
I think the next time I visit my doctor I’m going to ask what video games she plays, and the next time I visit the dentist I’m whipping out my iPod for a quick game of Angry Birds.
I find this application of video games (virtual reality, if you prefer) fascinating. How about you?