Using video games to cope with chronic pain

A growing body of research highlights the numerous cognitive benefits of playing video games. Now, researchers at the American Pain Society are saying that video games can even help alleviate pain.  As a result an increasing number of organizations are getting video games in to the hands of patients undergoing medical treatments.

TRANSCRIPT

A growing body of research highlights the numerous cognitive benefits of playing video games.

Now, researchers at the American Pain Society are saying that video games can even help alleviate pain.

As a result, an increasing number of organizations are getting video games into the hands of patients undergoing medical treatments.

Take a look.

The addicting effect of video games is one an avid gamer can certainly describe.

Once the controller hits the tips of their fingers, they are transported into a world of challenge and excitement.

[ Laughs ]

Oh! Got him. Got him.

The pastime is often criticized and accused of contributing to inactivity and, sometimes, for having a violent influence.

But studies have shown that gaming can do more good than you would expect.

According to the American Pain Society, researchers say virtual reality is proving to be effective in reducing anxiety and acute pain caused by painful medical procedures, and could be useful for treating chronic pain.

Betsy Twohig-Barrett is the president of Cancer Wellness Connections.

The organization in Rochester, New York, brings in various diversionary activities to hospitals for free.

That includes supplying iPads to patients undergoing chemotherapy so they can play games.

If you go into an infusion room, you'll quite often find that most of the patients have got some sort of device that they're playing with.

The study shows that when immersed in the virtual world of gaming, those who are undergoing serious procedures report significantly less stress.

If you're sitting in a chair, strapped into a chair for four or five hours, to find yourself transported to a different realm for those five hours can be greatly beneficial.

Twohig-Barrett was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer last summer.

I'd just had a major birthday milestone and decided I would be an adult and go out and do all of my screenings and such, and, lo and behold, I got the diagnosis.

She finished treatment in the winter.

Twohig-Barrett had been involved with Cancer Wellness Connections for four years because she had a passion to help the cause.

Little did she know she too could soon benefit from the services provided by her own program.

[ Laughs ]

Chronic asthma has profoundly affected the life of 55-year-old patient David Eichel, who returns to the hospital every four weeks for two to three injections that help to reduce the number of asthma attacks he suffers.

I'm a very bad asthmatic.

My lungs are over with.

The former computer programmer hasn't been able to maintain a full-time job in his field for nearly two decades, due to an assortment of illnesses.

I have GERD.

I have birth defects of my feet and ankles.

Yay! What fun.

High blood pressure, diabetes.

There's a big long list.

I literally take over 30 medications every day.

Oh, look, I won!

And when he's feeling down, Eichel picks himself up with a good book every night, followed by his all-time favorite video game.

I just restarted and finished playing 'Serious Sam,' which is a hardcore, shoot-em-up.

But what I like is it's set in ancient Egypt.

[ Chuckling ] I'm also big on the card games -- Solitaire, 'TriPeaks.'

[ Laughs ]

Researchers also find that, when playing 3-D games, the brain busies itself, using other senses like vision and touch and releases endorphins, a chemical that generally makes us feel good.

You hear these wonderful sounds -- [ Beeping ] [ Chuckles ] Dripping sounds -- 'Bloop, bloop!'

[ Laughs ] It's just... You can tell somebody is not in the here and now, they're in the somewhere else, and probably a better place.

And looking ahead, Twohig-Barrett says her genuine hope is that video games can not only relieve pain but alleviate the anxiety of approaching pain, as well.

If you can take away the fear of going in for an infusion -- not that the infusion is going to be hurtful or difficult.

It's the whole process, that you may not feel well afterwards.

Anything you can do is helpful.