Study: Virtual-Reality System Helps Treat PTSD In Soldiers

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VR computer programs found to help returning vets ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Lucy Pemoni/Getty Images)

VR computer programs found to help returning vets ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Lucy Pemoni/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could be treated with a virtual-reality program, reports Live Science.

Researchers say simulating the combat environment has been shown to help veterans suffering from PTSD to relive their traumatic experiences without the risk of physical harm.

The work builds on exposure therapies, which allow patients to confront their fears in a safe environment.

Using the virtual-reality program, called “Bravemind,” allows therapists to insert “triggers” that stimulate the original traumatic experience.

“The format may appeal to a generation of service members who have grown up with the digital world, and feel comfortable with it,” said lead researcher Skip Rizzo, a psychologist at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies in Los Angeles.

The first versions of the program, called “Virtual Iraq” and “Virtual Afghanistan,” were adapted from the first-person video game “Full Spectrum Warrior,” which was released for Xbox in 2004.

A study funded by the Office of Naval Research used a standard exposure-therapy approach, and involved 20 military members, 19 men and 1 woman, who had spent an average of eight years in active service. 16 of them showed improvement in their symptoms while four participants did not.

In a video testimonial, one soldier said that reliving his traumatic experiences in a virtual environment meant he didn’t have to think about them when he was at home with his family.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track changes in the brain following the virtual-reality treatment, and found that participants showed less activation in the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotional reactions, and more activation in frontal lobe areas involved in emotional control, Rizzo said.

About 28 percent of American personnel returning from Iraq have been diagnosed with clinical distress, according to the U.S. Air Force.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

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