Virtual Reality, a new drug-free medicine.
The medical world has started using the immersive technique more and more frequently as a therapeutic tool. There’s a lot of exciting research now which is being brought to life, partly enabled by the wild dolphin experience of the Dolphin Swim Club. Studies show that, yes indeed, swimming with virtual wild dolphins can help patients to reduce their pain, anxiety and enhance well-being, just by bringing ‘fun’ into healthcare.

Here are some examples of studies currently conducted.

Virtual Medicine

Since the beginning of the project, VR experiences of the Dolphin Swim Club have been part of several scientific medical research all over the world. Professor Wim Veling of the University Medical Center in Groningen has used them for the treatment of hospitalized patients, suffering from depression, anxiety disorders and psychoses. Early 2019 the latest study with 50 patients shows a very positive outcome of treatment by Virtual Reality compared by regular, validated relaxation exercises. The outcome of this study will be published later in 2019

‘s Heeren Loo, a Dutch mental health institution, dedicated to the lifelong support of over 10,000 clients with a mental disorder conducted a study with mild mentally disabled patients, suffering from severe stress complaints. Although the number of patients was rather small (below 15) the outcome was beyond expectations, showing that in 82% of the cases there was a significant improvement in relaxation and well-being realized. The individual stories of some of the participants were overwhelming, and an extra motivation for both the crew of the Dolphin Swim Club and the medical staff of ‘s Heeren Loo to intensify the collaboration by installing a dolphin-room at the premises, as well as providing the Wild Dolphin UnderwaterVR in various aqua therapies.

A young girl with autism, who suffered from insomnia for over 4 years, responded so well to the virtual wild dolphins’ experience, that she now owns VR goggles herself. Every evening before going to bed, she wishes the dolphins good night and no longer has any problems falling asleep.

The Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles used the footage for a study on pain relief. It has been found that virtual therapy can help reduce pain by 52%. More studies, on the duration of the reduction, must be conducted, but the immediate effects are very promising.

Stanford University uses the Wild Dolphin VR experiences in both the preparation of young heart patients just before undergoing surgery, but also in general for relaxation purposes in the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Pain management

As some pregnant women are experimenting with VR headsets to ease the pains of childbirth, burn victims start using Virtual Reality to lessen the severe pain of having their bandages changed. Now, new research from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles supports the growing belief that therapeutic VR can safely and effectively reduce severe pain in hospitalised patients.

Virtual Reality can significantly lessen people’s pain signals, especially in those who experience more severe pain. At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center140 patients suffering from orthopedic pain to cancer pain were divided into two groups. One group had Virtual Reality experiences, ranging from mountain scenery to swimming with wild dolphins, while the other group watched health and wellness videos on TV. Patients were instructed to watch the content three times daily for 10 minutes at a time and whenever they experienced extra pain. On a pain scale from zero to 10, the VR group said their pain scores went down by approximately two points, while the TV group experienced only about half a point decrease in pain. Most notably, patients with the most severe pain reported the greatest benefits from the Virtual Reality experience, with their pain score dropping roughly three points. These findings suffest Virtual Reality may be a safe, effective and drug-free solution to treat pain.

Study author Dr Brennan Spiegel, Professor of Medicine and Public Health and Director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, believes that Virtual Reality can engage patients in managing pain and distress without reaching for a potentially addictive pill. Because even if the means by which the pain reduction is achieved is virtual, the difference patients feel in their pain is real.

Research Collaborators

The child was tearing up and trying hard not to cry in front of his father. The boy was provided a VR headset with a relaxation program that showed dolphins swimming underwater. “He was so focused on the visualization we were able to put him in a splint in no time,” Elliott says. “He kept saying, ‘I see the dolphins.’ He got through it without crying.”

Courtney Elliot, Clinical Director of the emergency department- Mount Vernon Hospital- Virginia USA