How Virtual Reality could be the key to preventing falls and easing chronic pain

Jan 28, 2024
Falls are a considerable health concern for individuals over 65, impacting one in three people annually. Source:HANDOUT/NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH AUSTRALIA.

Venturing into the immersive landscape of virtual reality is not just a thrilling escape; it could also serve as a groundbreaking solution for health-related issues.

Recent research suggests that delving into virtual experiences might be a key factor in preventing falls and mitigating the persistent burden of chronic pain.

A thorough investigation into the impact of at-home step exercises, infused with a gaming component, revealed notable effectiveness in preventing falls, particularly among individuals aged over 65.

The captivating and enjoyable nature of the gaming exercises not only sustained participation but also significantly diminished the risk of falls, addressing potential cognitive decline associated with ageing, as detailed in a study by Neuroscience Research Australia.

Falls are a considerable health concern for individuals over 65, impacting one in three people annually.

Daina Sturnieks, the lead author of the study, underscored the importance of balance-challenging exercises in fall prevention. However, she acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining consistency due to the perceived monotony of traditional exercises.

“We’ve known for a long time that, if done correctly and consistently, balance-challenging exercises can prevent falls,” she said.

“The problem is that often people don’t keep up with their exercises because they can get boring very quickly.”

In the experiment involving over 750 participants, those who immersed themselves in the stepping exercise game for two hours per week over a year showcased a remarkable 26 per cent reduction in the likelihood of experiencing a fall.

Beyond fall prevention, the fusion of exercise with virtual reality seems to hold promise in alleviating chronic pain. A clinical study conducted by the University of South Australia highlighted the potential of game focused workouts to render them more tolerable.

With over 3.4 million Australians grappling with chronic pain, the conventional recommendation of exercising for at least 30 minutes, three to five times a week, encounters challenges due to perceived boredom, effort requirements, and pain barriers.

Erin MacIntyre, a PhD candidate, explored the integration of virtual reality with exercise, discovering that combining an exercise bike with a virtual reality headset resulted in a 20 per cent increase in enjoyment levels and a 15 per cent longer exercise duration. By providing a distraction from the exertion of exercise, the virtual reality experience contributed to heightened enjoyment and sustained engagement.

“The challenge is that there are often barriers to exercise – many find it boring, or say that it requires too much effort, or can be painful,” MacIntyre said.

“The VR experience distracted cyclists from the exertion of exercise and made the exercise feel easier, which together contributed to increased enjoyment and engagement.”

-with AAP.

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