February 24, 2024
Virtual Reality Treatment in Palliative Care Helps Patients "Flourish" during Relaxation Therapy

Virtual Reality Treatment in Palliative Care Helps Patients “Flourish” during Relaxation Therapy

In a ground-breaking clinical trial, researchers have demonstrated that a novel intervention known as Flourishing-Life-of-Wish Virtual Reality Relaxation Therapy (FLOW-VRT-Relaxation) can significantly improve the management of symptoms and stress in cancer patients receiving palliative care. This innovative therapy may even help these patients achieve their last wishes. The results of the study were published in Frontiers in Virtual Reality.

Palliative care is an interdisciplinary medical specialty that focuses on providing care and support to individuals with serious and often terminal illnesses. It aims to enhance the quality of life for patients and their families by alleviating symptoms and reducing stress. However, despite being recognized as a human right, palliative care is only accessible to a small percentage of individuals who require it globally.

Psychological interventions, such as relaxation therapy, play a crucial role in palliative care, as seriously ill patients often experience high levels of stress. The recent study highlighted that relaxation therapy assisted by virtual reality (VR) outperformed traditional relaxation therapy in terms of managing physical and psychological symptoms in palliative care.

The FLOW-VRT-Relaxation intervention was designed by lead author Olive Woo and her team in 2020. It combines standard relaxation therapy techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing to lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels, with the use of an immersive VR headset that plays a relaxing 360° panoramic video. This intervention aims to promote a psychological state of “flourishing,” characterized by optimal well-being, positive emotions, engagement in meaningful activities, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

The study took place between November 2022 and September 2023, with 128 adult cancer patients in a palliative care ward of a public hospital in Hong Kong participating. The volunteers were randomly assigned to either the FLOW-VRT-Relaxation group or the control group, which received standard-of-care relaxation therapy without VR. In the intervention group, Olive Woo provided coaching on diaphragmatic breathing techniques.

Eight VR videos, selected based on responses from eligible patients, were shown to the intervention group. These videos were chosen for their potential to evoke feelings of joy, closure, and a meaningful end-of-life experience. For example, patients could virtually experience cherry blossom viewing in Japan. Each video lasted for 10 minutes and was accompanied by soothing music. The control group also listened to similar calming music during their relaxation therapy sessions. Participants in the intervention group had the freedom to choose their preferred video from the shortlist.

Feedback from patients who underwent the FLOW-VRT-Relaxation therapy was overwhelmingly positive. Some expressed a sense of wonder and awe as they immersed themselves in the virtual environments and engaged in activities they previously thought were impossible. Others reported feelings of joy, excitement, and gratitude for being able to fulfill their wishes or engage in activities they had always dreamed of. Many patients also felt empowered and confident through their interaction with VR technology.

This ground-breaking study highlights the potential of virtual reality therapy in the field of palliative care. By offering immersive and interactive experiences, patients experiencing serious illnesses can find solace, fulfillment, and even achieve their last wishes. The FLOW-VRT-Relaxation therapy provides a valuable psychological intervention that can significantly improve the well-being of patients in palliative care settings.

1.Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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