After writing my piece on how the Oculus Rift helped a terminally ill woman, Roberta Firstenberg, cope with cancer before she passed away, the thought of utilizing the device in such a way sparked a muse within me about how the Oculus Rift could help in more ways than just being a videogame peripheral.
Firstenberg’s granddaughter offered suggestions such as travel, going outside or even sitting in a chair when listing off potential ways in which the Oculus Rift could be used. Sure, all those seem fairly mundane for the able, but let’s try to think of it from a different angle; from the perspective of those who are unable.
The way I coin “able” and “unable” is for interpretation alone, as many “unable” people may be as “able” as anyone else, and vise versa. So, please bear that in mind when reading on.
I think the Oculus Rift could be used in certain medical applications, such as therapy or even counselling. It could allow for certain people with phobias to help beat their fears, or for bedridden patients to have a nice stroll along the beach, or perhaps for those who become easily emotionally distressed to calm down soothingly.
I have known and interacted with friends who have anxiety, or perceive themselves to have anxiety in some description, be it's a heightened nervousness around new faces or an emotional overreaction to something quite menial due to problems stacking upon problems (something I tend to do myself every now and then). Having anxiety can be very debilitating to someone’s confidence or to how someone socially interacts, to the point where someone might not be able to cope with anything going wrong for fear of something worse resulting because of it, or inaccurately interrupting expressions or conversational tones in a way that negatively impacts them on an emotional level--which can sometimes manifest on a physical level with certain individuals.
I think the Oculus Rift could be useful for those who suffer anxiety or some other disorder, as they could better cope with it by immersing them into a virtual world and steadily weaning themselves into the real world at their own pace. People who suffer from disorders such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia, hydroskourophobia, achluophobia and such the like could also use the Oculus Rift as a form of therapy or counselling, to overcome their fears or to overcome themselves.
Like Firstenberg, those who suffer life-threatening or life-ending illnesses may not be able to enjoy certain aspects of life past a certain degree of the affliction’s severity. Firstenberg used to enjoy gardening before her illness became too much, but she was just happy enough to experience walking up and down stairs in a virtual house via the Oculus Rift. For those who are unfortunately bedridden or are significantly less physically active due to their illness, the device could be used for them to explore more of the outside world again, like having a nice walk on a sunny day. It could also be used for sensory stimulation, be it visual or audial.
Firstenberg’s granddaughter was in the middle of developing a unique experience for her grandmother for use of the Oculus Rift, which would have included a lot of elements for Firstenberg to explore and enjoy. Unfortunately, Firstenberg passed away before the projected could be finished. The simulation would have been filled with butterflies, waterfalls and a forest with fairies in them--things Firstenberg loved and talked about. Unique Oculus Rift experiences could be tailor made for those who don’t have all that long to live, incorporating their likes, their loves and various other things they may find soothing and relaxing, thus possibly making their time more comfortable. No matter who it is, be it a terminally ill adult or child, I think having a tailored-made virtual experience would be another way for them to enjoy their time than lying in a bed or sitting in a chair.
The same concept could be used for those who become very distressed very easily, or perhaps to better help those who suffer relative conditions on the autism spectrum. Those who aren’t able to perceive depth or have poor coordination could benefit greatly from learning in a virtual, safe and immersive environment, and it could even be used as a calming method for those who suffer severe autism. The Oculus Rift could also be used as an escapism for those who are too withdrawn or are perceived to be limited by their disorder, and it may give them a chance to be themselves and to explore their own identities in a safe environment. What’s more, the device could even be used as a way of explaining how emotions work to those who have poor empathic skills.
Over time, I think the Oculus Rift could make a very good addition to different medical applications. It’s certainly something that may be implemented as the technology is further developed. We’ll see what comes around in the future.