Video games could help burn patients cope with pain

March 24, 2008 2:19:25 PM PDT
Have you ever been so caught up in a video game that you lose track of what's happening in the real world? Doctors at Loyola University Hospital say this kind of distraction can be a powerful tool in helping burn victims cope with pain.

That's the idea behind "SnowWorld," a high-tech virtual reality game designed to take patients somewhere else. Once the helmet goes on, burn patients are immersed in a wintery wonderland where a snowball fight gets underway with penguins, polar bears and snowmen. And, while patients aim for frosty and listen to music, doctors say excruciating wound care and physical therapy becomes less painful.

Former burn patient Jamie Nieto gave the system a try and says he barely noticed the therapist working on his arm.

"If they would have had this here while I was a patient I think going through therapy would have been a little more enjoyable," said Nieto.

"The notion that pain is always something that has to be treated with medication, we want to challenge that, we want to find alternative ways," said Dr. Richard Gamelli, burn specialist, Loyola Univ. Hospital.

There is research suggesting that virtual reality may modify how the brain deals with signals sent from pain receptors.

Only a handful of hospitals across the country have this system, which costs about $50,000.