Personalised virtual reality in palliative care: Exploring its potential for symptom management

Personalised virtual reality in palliative care: Exploring its potential for symptom management

An article written by A/Prof Tobias Loetscher, Justice & Society, University of South Australia

Virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a promising non-pharmacological therapy in palliative care, offering potential benefits for symptom management and overall well-being. As the demand for innovative and personalised approaches to palliative care grows, it is crucial to explore the effectiveness and nuances of VR interventions in this context. We describe the findings of our recent research study of the effects of personalised VR therapy among palliative care patients at an acute ward.

Why was it important for your team to do this research?

Previous research had shown promise for VR in this context, but there were still knowledge gaps regarding the effects of multiple VR sessions, the impact on different types of symptoms, and the proportion of patients experiencing clinically meaningful improvements. We wanted to address these questions to better understand the potential of personalised VR therapy in palliative care settings.

What did you find out? Did any of the findings surprise you?

Our study revealed several key findings. When looking at group averages, we found that symptoms were less bothersome immediately after each 20-minute VR session, with similar effect sizes for both emotional and physical symptoms. Interestingly, when we examined individual patient outcomes, over 50% of patients experienced clinically meaningful improvements in symptoms after just 20 minutes of VR. However, there was substantial individual variability in responses, with a few participants reporting feeling somewhat worse after the VR sessions. While we expected to see some benefits, the magnitude of the effects at the group level and the proportion of patients experiencing meaningful improvements at the individual level were somewhat surprising and encouraging.

What do you see as the major implications of the study?

The study highlights the potential of personalised VR therapy as a valuable complementary approach in palliative care. The findings suggest that VR may have the potential to help manage both physical and emotional symptoms. However, the notable variability in patient responses underscores the importance of setting realistic expectations and monitoring individual responses closely. Our research indicates that VR could be presented as a tailored option that can provide meaningful symptom relief for many, but not all, patients.

Research has the potential to have a positive impact on individuals and societies. What do you hope the impact of this research will be?

We hope that our research will contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the use of VR in palliative care and encourage more widespread adoption of this innovative approach. By demonstrating the potential benefits and nuances of personalised VR therapy, we aim to inspire further research and refinement of VR interventions in this context. Additionally, we believe that our study can contribute to a broader shift towards embracing complementary, non-pharmacological therapies that prioritise patient preferences and experiences in palliative care.

 

Authors

Kaylin Altman, Psychology Student, UniSA Justice & Society, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Dimitrios Saredakis, PhD, Research Assistant in Psychology, UniSA Justice & Society, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Hannah Keage, Professor in Psychology, UniSA Justice & Society, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Amanda Hutchinson, Associate Professor in Psychology, UniSA Justice & Society, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Megan Corlis, Director Education and Aged Care, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Education Centre SA, Adelaide, Australia

Ross Smith, Associate Professor in Computer Science, Australian Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia

Gregory Crawford, Professor in Palliative Medicine, Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Australia & Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, Adelaide, South Australia

Tobias Loetscher, Associate Professor in Psychology, UniSA Justice & Society, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

 


Reference

  1. Altman K, Saredakis D, Keage H, Hutchinson A, Corlis M, Smith RT, Crawford GB, Loetscher T. Personalised virtual reality in palliative care: Clinically meaningful symptom improvement for some. BMJ Support Palliat Care. 2024 Feb 20:spcare-2024-004815. doi: 10.1136/spcare-2024-004815.
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The views and opinions expressed in Palliative Perspectives are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.