Background The use of virtual reality (VR) for symptom management in palliative care has grown over the last five years; most of the studies have been of its use in hospice (Popert & Riat, 2017) and hospital inpatient (Nwosu, Mills, Roughneen, 2021; Niki, Okamoto, Maeda, et al., 2019) and day therapy units (DTU). The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the temporary closure of our DTU, so we therefore also offered patients the opportunity to use the headsets in their own homes.
Aim This study explores the impact of using VR on reported pain, anxiety and mood in palliative patients and the feasibility of using it in the home.
Method Patients are instructed how to use VR headsets on the inpatient unit or in their own home. Participants complete questionnaires on its influence on pain and anxiety scores and their experience of use. Volunteers were trained to teach patients how to use the headsets.
Results 30 sets of data have been collected from the inpatient unit and 10 from patients’ homes, results for both groups are similar. All patients reported ease of use, a positive experience, and no adverse effects. 98% of those who reported pain before using VR reported a reduction and 93% of those who reported anxiety before using VR reported a reduction. For the majority of participants in this study using VR induced emotion with positive valence – happiness, excitement. The ability of VR to induce emotions with positive valence is deemed to influence its analgesic effect (Triberti, Repetto, Riva, 2014).
Conclusion The majority of palliative patients are managed in the community setting, and enabling the use of VR in their own homes means more patients can experience the benefits. There are multiple small studies on the impact of VR on symptoms in palliative patients but randomised controlled trials are needed (Austin, Lovell, Siddall, 2019). It is an intervention that puts a smile on patients’ faces.
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