Virtual reality could transform the way we treat anxiety disorders, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s

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Image: Benjamin Torode

Experts used to worry that virtual reality (VR) would damage our brains. These days, however, VR seems more likely to help our gray matter. A new wave of psychological research is pioneering VR to diagnose and treat medical conditions from social anxiety to chronic pain to Alzheimer’s disease. 

Today’s VR content is primarily designed to aid exposure therapy, a treatment for anxiety disorders in which patients are exposed to anxiety-inducing stimuli in a safe, controlled environment, eventually learning that the “threats” they’re worried about are not actually very dangerous. For example, someone who fears heights might visit progressively taller buildings under the guidance of their therapist (in vivo exposure), while someone with PTSD might revisit traumatic memories in therapy sessions (imaginary exposure).

In addition to potentially providing better outcomes for treatment, VR may aid diagnosis. For example, since the technology can immerse every patient in the same scenario, some researchers believe that VR-based diagnostic testing for conditions like schizophrenia, ADHD and autism could offer more objective results than today’s interview-based methods.

Only time will tell the real outcome—but for now, VR for the brain is here to stay.

Read full, original post: Virtual Reality Might Be the Next Big Thing for Mental Health

Related article:  Mental illness: Genes form underlying basis, but the environment dictates who actually becomes ill
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