FINDING HOPE: How technology is positively "masking" debilitating problems

Posted at 3:14 PM, Jan 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 20:35:26-05

BOISE, IDAHO — Many people living with an acquired disability such as PTSD, opioid addiction, or alcoholism try to mask their symptoms by not speaking to anyone about it. Recently, technology has advanced so far that those who are suffering can find some of they help they putting on a different kind of mask.

For many, virtual reality is the latest and greatest way for gamers to escape the real world and have a little fun. For others, it can be a life-saving tool...something demonstrated in a study done last year.

"Somebody who was diagnosed with PTSD, went through a VR treatment program, and then after completing the program, went through to get re-diagnosed, and did not get diagnosed as having PTSD," said Idaho Virtual Reality Council Board Member Jim Bradbury.

It's something VR1 owner Brendan Smythe has seen first-hand with a war veteran who often comes into his virtual arcade.

"He actually goes and does full missions in virtual reality, so he's actually on the ground. From there, he can actually complete the mission, have a goal in mind, take off the headset, go home feeling happy and completed," said Owner and Operator of VR1 Brendan Smythe.

From veterans of war to former athletes who's careers may have ended because of debilitating injuries, former ball players can now get back on the virtual field without fear of injury.

"They're actually engaging in something that they're not able to do anymore, which is kind of what those developed disabilities happen over the years of not being able to do something that you loved to do. It starts to have a negative impact on your life," said Smythe.

The results? Better than anyone could have imagined.

"They're coming out of the headset with tears. They're thinking they could have never done this in their life again," said Smythe.

While it may be easy to say yes to getting back on the field, in real life, it's incredibly hard for people with addiction problems to say no. That's something else V-R has begun addressing.

"They've developed an app to simulate the environment where you may fall into that trap again and you may start to use drugs again, or alcohol, and they kind of put you into that environment, into a virtual environment and have people pressure you, and have you be in that scenario to teach you to say no, so that the first time that that happens, you've already had multiple training sessions to say no. Like, I'm done with that," said Smythe.

Or virtual situations for those who might still be addicted to opioids or other drugs and are fighting to live a sober life.

"Going to the beach and they're seeing the waves and they have animals passing by them, and that's very relaxing to them and it triggers kind of that brain stimulation that the drug would," said Smythe.

But no matter your affliction, one thing that every one of us deals with at some point is stress...that's another issue V-R can help with.

"You don't have the ability to maybe walk down to the Boise River because you work downtown, you can put on the headset and suddenly, you're in a mountain meadow with the breeze flowing around you and the birds chirping in the air. And you can just sit and hang out and begin to feel that same effect as if you were actually there," said Bradbury.

Most of these innovations have only become mainstream over the past three-to-four years while programs and applications continue to be developed and evolve. In the meantime, local residents should be excited to know that they can get much of the virtual help they need right here in the Treasure Valley.

"The future's really bright for AR and VR in addressing these issues, so I think we're just barely scratching the surface," said Bradbury.

If you think virtual reality could be beneficial to you or someone you know, or just to find out more about the benefits, try contacting Black Box VR in Boise or VR1 in Eagle. VR1 is also opening up a brand new location in Downtown Boise this Saturday.