Virtual reality gaming helps patients with visual vertigo

Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS FT has installed a state-of-the-art virtual reality computer gaming suite at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital to help patents with visual vertigo.

The use of the technology has already led to a dramatic 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.

Around 30% of people with balance problems suffer with visual vertigo, a chronic and complex form of dizziness, which leads to social isolation and depression and puts sufferers at increased risk of falling.

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 fully 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. During the augmented reality therapy, patients are able to experience the movements, sounds and sensations of a sequence of different visual stimuli that they would normally find troublesome, such as going up a lift in a skyscraper, swaying scenery or flying.

Professor Jaydip Ray, Clinical Director and Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at Sheffield’s 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.”