Occupational Therapy and Virtual Reality


Written by Ian Cheok (Occupational Therapist).
18th February, 2020.

While it can be challenging to see the trials and tribulations of people with complex chronic health issues, hearing their pain recovery stories can be very rewarding. The patient’s road to recovery is often long and arduous, as most people have to juggle appointments, manage
the uncertainties of treatment outcomes, and endure the symptoms of their conditions. This leaves little room for personal expression and growth.

As occupational therapists, we see health as not just the absence of illness or injuries, but as an opportunity to do what matters to them. Since the birth of the profession, occupational therapy practitioners have understood the importance of using engaging activities as a means of recovery. A person might wish to regain her ability to dress herself independently, a goal she can use during “dress rehearsal” training sessions to improve her physical performance and self-confidence. Likewise, we encourage people to participate in artistic endeavours that bring joy and respite from their daily grind. I have always been intrigued with the magical qualities of using meaningful and purposeful activities in a therapeutic context. It allows the patient to be more in control of their recovery journey, and for therapists to practice their clinical skills in the most humane and creative manner.

However, these days it is often challenging to implement such therapy programs due resource constraints. Individuals may have their medical and functional needs met, but they often suffer grievously from a loss of purpose in their lives. Most often believe they must wait until they are well again to restore that purpose. For some, that day may never come, as they spend their entire lives managing their chronic conditions. This is where I see the potential of using emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) to overcome these barriers.

So, what is virtual reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment. Unlike traditional computer user interfaces, VR places you inside an experience. Instead of viewing a screen in front of you, VR allows you to view and interact with 3D worlds. Multiple
senses such as vision, hearing, touch, and movement are stimulated as the VR device (often a headset) is transformed into a gatekeeper to this artificial world. The only limits to near-real VR experiences are the availability of content and cheap computing power.

VR and The Future of OT
The immersive and interactive qualities of VR, coupled with enriched environments it generates, allows people to move away from their diagnosis/disability whilst enabling active participation in rehabilitation. Occupational Therapists can tailor individualised virtual experiences (occupations) for individuals during rehabilitation sessions to make it meaningful, fun and engaging for the client. Increasing research studies show the benefits of using VR in different rehabilitation settings such as pain management, mental health care, neurorehabilitation and more. In coming posts, I will cover the use of VR in these different areas.

While VR technology is still at its infancy and not a panacea for everything, more research and educational initiatives are underway to ensure that this new approach therapy is safe and effective for everyone. As the technology improves, more opportunities are likely to occur; as rehabilitation specialists, we must keep our contact with these developments and develop ourselves according to our clients’ needs.

Occupational Therapy and Virtual Reality

COVID-19 Update

We hope you are safe and well, and coping with all the changes to our lives that have occurred due to COVID-19.  We would like to let you know that we are here to support you, and are continuing to provide occupational therapy services. We have temporarily ceased any clinic-based consultations in order to reduce any risk to our clients and our staff. All of our staff are now currently working from home.  Our preference is to provide OT services as much as possible via telehealth.  This means either telephone or online consultations.  This is the best way to still provide services and remove any risk of infection.  We understand however, that for some of our clients, this is neither suitable or possible. Where telehealth is not appropriate, and an occupational therapy service is essential, we are continuing to see clients in their homes or in the community. We do this with all the physical distancing and hygiene precautions in place.
We will contact you prior to your appointment to see if it is possible for us to provide your service via telehealth. If it is not possible and we are planning to come to your home, please let us know if you or anyone in your household are unwell with any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough or sore throat.
We care very much about our clients and staff and we would like to reassure you that we are doing our best to keep surfaces and our hands clean and will maintain a safe physical distance during home visits.  This means we will not shake hands when we greet you, and will only use direct hands on contact when essential.

If you are well and we come to see you at home or in the community, please:

  • Maintain a 1.5 metre physical distance where possible.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before and after appointments where possible.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, please use a tissue and dispose of it or cover your mouth and nose with your elbow.
  • Refrain from having additional family members/carers with you if possible as the less people in contact with everyone the better.
We know that at this time some of our clients may be finding it particularly difficult with increased isolation, anxiety or a reduction in their usual supports and services.  We would like you to know that if this applies to you, please reach out to us to ask for help, and we will try our best to help you access the support you need.

We sincerely appreciate your understanding of the above. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.  

Best Wishes
The Lifeworks Occupational Therapy Team