Virtual outdoors to aid patient recovery, reduce pain levels


[Image: Dartmoor National Park, UK]

VR Greenery Aid to Convalescence

May 25, 2011

University scientists are seeking to take virtual reality to a new level – with a view to helping sick people who cannot get access to the outside world. The researchers in Birmingham plan their new worlds to be “sensorily rich”.

They are using large screen TVs, video projectors and head mounted displays to create virtual versions of soothing rural and coastal scenes. The initial development is re-creating a stretch of the coastline of south Devon and an area within Dartmoor National Park.

The developers say there is research evidence that exposure to greenery, such as trees, can improve patient recovery and reduce pain levels. Tests on volunteers are due to start later this summer. Birmingham University has become involved because its local hospital provides specialist defence medical facilities and has a large number of trauma victims.

Developer Professor Bob Stone, a multimedia specialist, said: “This technology could be made available to anyone who, for whatever reason, is in hospital, bed-bound or cannot get outside.  They will be able to get the benefits of the countryside and seaside by viewing the virtual scenario on screen. Patients will be free to choose areas that they want to spend time in; they can take a walk along coastal footpaths, sit on a beach, listen to the waves and birdsong, watch the sun go down and – in due course – even experience the smells of the land-and seascapes almost as if they were experiencing the outdoors for real.”

He added: “We are keen to understand what effect our virtual environments have on patients and will be carrying out further studies into arousal levels and reaction. In the summer we will start to test this on a large number of people so that we can measure biofeedback and make any changes or improvements to the scenario we have chosen.”

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