Virtual Reality Assists Macular Degeneration Treatment

Virtual Reality Assists Macular Degeneration Treatment

Each year a host of visual technology comes to market. These are either for entertainment, rehabilitation or both with the intent of making vision struggle a little less challenging. It is tools like these that keep some going, able to function in society, maintaining a sense of independence and integrity.

Some of these visual tools include:

  • Telescopic devices
  • Smart contact lenses
  • Text to audio conversion devices
  • Closed circuit television magnifiers
  • Hand-held and desk-top magnifiers
  • Eyeglasses with high powered lenses

Virtual reality (VR) has been at the forefront of this technology for years but hasn’t been able to completely deliver. Now, VR is significantly advanced making it a useful tool when it comes to assisting, enhancing, or even entertaining those challenged by a visual disease such as macular degeneration.

The applications are increasing as VR graphics, adaptation and even size, weight and  portability of the device are being applied to macular degeneration treatment. It is out-of-the-box thinking which is easily crossing over into helping those with glaucoma, cataracts and other vision challenges as well.

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The VR Tech

VR is experienced by wearing special goggles or a headset (aka HMD/head mounted display) that completely covers the eyes. Inside, you see a screen that feels as if it is much further away than it really is, immersing your direct and peripheral vision into a kind of other world. One minute you could swear you were petting a lion and the next minute you might be flying an F-16 through obstacles in the sky.

Tech platform Wareable describes VR,

“The goal of the hardware is to create what appears to be a life size, 3D virtual environment without the boundaries we usually associate with TV or computer screens. So whatever way you look, the screen mounted to your face follows you.”

Often, the VR device is usually plugged in or wirelessly connected to a stationary console that controls the image feed. However, there are also portable VR sets that can be controlled via smartphone-based goggles. Some are even able to tap into and manipulate your realtime surroundings turning it into a virtual/augmented reality.

The equipment can range from about $100 up into the thousands so there is a variety of brands and levels to choose from. Up to this point VR has mostly been used for entertainment however medical, business, education and other platform applications are now being applied, particularly for those with macular degeneration and other visual challenges.

Virtual Reality Assists Macular Degeneration

Seniors Benefit

Most want to take time to escape and recharge their batteries by going on vacation or doing something they love. However, struggling with macular degeneration can make it difficult to enjoy a relaxing time when just deciphering what you’re trying to see can cause stress.

This is where an alumni researcher from the University of Texas at Dallas stepped up to take VR out of the hands of kids and put it into the hands of seniors. It is coming out of a startup company called MyndVR which has created a library of VR films that can be viewed through VR technology. It is customized to

The content is customized to those with specific cognitive and physical challenges (primarily seniors) that include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and others. This includes easy tasks such as building, painting, playing a musical instrument and thousands of other scenarios that take little physical effort. The easy navigation and interaction experience is a perfect fit when physical movement might be limited. Cognitively, VR has had a surprisingly beneficial effect showing improvement in:

  • Mood
  • Interaction
  • Socialization
  • Memory recall
  • Problem solving

According to Chris Brickler, co-founder and CEO of MyndVR,

“We feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction in seeing firsthand the difference that virtual reality can make in a person’s life. During recent successful field trials, we watched people connect with the world around them and remember times from years past all while smiling and feeling inner satisfaction. It is heartwarming to see how happy participants are during and after an experience.”

VR Empathy Medicine

In addition to VR being used as an entertainment or therapy device, as mentioned, it is also an excellent educational implementation, particularly for those dealing with aging patients. Now, symptoms of diseases such as macular degeneration are no longer words on a page or descriptions from a patient but something that can actually be experienced.

Healio reports of a VR simulation of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) developed by eye care company Bausch + Lomb. Joseph Gordon, president of consumer health and vision care commented,

“We are continuously looking for creative ways to educate the public about eye health and we hope by showing eye care professionals their AMD patients’ struggles first-hand, it will encourage them to be even better stewards of care,”

Jeffry Gerson, an optometrist from Grin Eye Care in Leawood, Kansas had an opportunity to work with the VR simulation stating that,

“I spend a lot of time talking to my AMD patients and their family members about steps they can take to help reduce their risk of disease progression,…Now, after being able to fully relate to what my patients are dealing with through the AMD Virtual Experience, it has underscored, even more, the importance for me as a practitioner to communicate to my patients the importance of reducing their risk of progression.”

There is also a Chicago start up called Embodied Labs which created an app called the Alfred Lab app. This app won top prize in the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing (CBC) annual VR hackathon competition. It is based on using smartphone VR goggles to experience a day in the life of Alfred, a 74-year-old African American man with high frequency hearing loss and age-related macular degeneration. It includes interaction with doctors, family and friends as well as visual symptoms of AMD.

Forbes reports that, “as a viewer wears the virtual reality goggles, his or her eyesight is blighted by a dark spot in the middle of the visual field simulating AMD. The visual impairment makes eye contact, communication and simple tasks difficult.”

Carrie Shaw, co-founder and CEO of Embodied Labs comments, “It’s not just learning about a disease. VR puts you in this world and that creates empathy, which has been shown to lead to better communication skills and professionalism for the health care workforce.”

Going Beyond Macular Degeneration

Some of the other VR applications include experiencing symptoms of dementia, autism and more.

Forbes describes some others,

“The United Nations has created a virtual reality experience of virtually dropping participants into a Syrian refugee camp. Google used VR to have wounded veterans who could not participate in Veteran’s Day parades experience these events in real-time from their homes. And a major pharmaceutical company uses VR to show how a mother now understands how her migraine-suffering daughter feels.”

Sometimes technology can do amazing things for those in need. As virtual reality assists macular degeneration treatment it will continue to go beyond teenage amusement and improve many situations that were once thought hopeless.



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