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How virtual reality can help calm caregivers of children undergoing surgery

A new study has found that virtual reality helps alleviate the anxiety experienced by most parents and caregivers when their child undergoes surgery

VR interventions help reduce anxiety among parents and caregivers in the waiting area of hospitals. (Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 16.10.2023  |  04:21 PM IST

When a child undergoes surgery, it can be an emotionally unsettling experience for the parents who might experience high anxiety. A new study has found that one way to alleviate the anxiety experienced by most parents and caregivers is through virtual reality (VR).

About 74% of caregivers experience anxiety before their child's surgical procedure, as reported by New Medical News. However, very few hospitals have implemented interventions to help address the anxiety experienced by caregivers or parents, which can also negatively impact children. Caregiver anxiety can increase the distress experienced by the child before surgery, which could contribute to uncooperative anaesthetic inductions, prolonged recovery or increased postoperative pain.

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The new study, presented at the Anaesthesiology 2023 annual meeting, highlights the effectiveness of VR interventions for parents and caregivers in the waiting area of hospitals. The findings show that guided, mindfulness meditation, developed by the Stanford Chariot Program, a clinical and translational research program that develops unique uses for immersive technologies in pediatric health care, could be a reliable anxiety-relief option, according to New Medical News.

In the intervention, computer-generated imagery of nature-based images were projected to help them relax along with visual and auditory prompts to 14 caregivers of children undergoing noninvasive or surgical procedures while the 12 were asked to wait as usual in the waiting area. After receiving the VR intervention, the average anxiety level for caregivers in the VR group dropped by more than 20%.

“By providing family-centered care, we aim to treat not just the patient, but also caregivers, who experience quite a bit of anxiety before, during and after surgery when a loved one is undergoing a procedure. Our findings demonstrated a significant anxiety reduction when using VR, compared to our standard of care," senior author of the study, Thomas J. Caruso said in a press statement.

Immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, come with new options for non-pharmacologic treatment for anxiety relief, Caruso added. Previous studies have also shown how virtual reality interventions can help address depression and anxiety. In August, a study, published in the Scientific Reports Journal, revealed that regular physical exercise based on virtual reality (VR) could reduce the development of depression and anxiety symptoms among hemodialysis patients.

These studies show that as virtual reality headsets are becoming more commercially available, their use in the medical field is also expanding.

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