An NHS Trust has begun using virtual reality gaming to treat visual vertigo in everyday NHS practice.
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has installed a virtual reality computer gaming suite at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and could be used in the home of the patients over time.
The Trust claims use of the technology has already led to an improvement in recovery times for patients suffering with the condition, with those using the digital landscape and headsets during rehabilitative therapy regaining control of their symptoms within six to eight weeks of starting therapy. This compares to six months using traditional rehabilitative therapy.
Standard treatment is undertaken through the use of controlled sessions where patients are asked to undertake a range of gaze adaptation therapy activities for 15 to 20 minutes. Typically, this involves patients being asked to throw a ball, track the movement of their fingers, sway their head from side to side either at slow or fast pace, or look at visually stimulating patterns like wallpaper.
However, by using a virtual reality system, patients are able to immerse themselves in realistic 3D settings during their therapy. This enables them to experience the same physical and psychological movements and reactions they would in real life.
Professor Jaydip Ray, clinical director and consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, said: “Visual vertigo is a complex, yet poorly understood condition that can have a profound effect on people’s lives, with many finding it impossible to do job roles in the fire or police service that require you to cope with visual challenges.
“Our specialist regional neurotology clinic has already pioneered the use of augmented reality video game consoles with balance boards to help patients, so using hi-end virtual reality gaming systems for rehabilitative therapy for patients with visual vertigo is a natural progression for us. Although a small number of patients have been unable to tolerate the system, for those who can we have seen significant improvements in recovery times. These can be hugely transforming and can be key in preventing a deepening sense of depression and isolation, and most patients who have accessed the system are now being symptom-free.”
Visual vertigo occurs when there is a mismatch between the visual, vestibular and somatosensory systems that control the movement and senses of the eye, meaning patients are unable to cope in visually challenging environments. This includes when in supermarket aisles, train stations, shopping malls or when on escalators or on motorways.