UCF uses virtual reality to treat veterans, first responders with PTSD

Doctors at the University of Central Florida (UCF) are revolutionizing how virtual reality is being used to help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The school is gaining national attention for how they treat veterans and first responders for PTSD.

"The virtual reality program that we have developed now allows therapists to be very specific when designing a treatment program for their patient," Dr. Deborah Beidel told FOX 35. She is the Executive Director of the Restores program, which was recently featured in the New York Times.

Treatment is tailored for each individual's specific trauma to help the experts treat it better.

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"What we are really interested in is what are the triggers that make someone anxious and make them feel like they are once again experiencing that horrific night," Dr. Beidel explained.

Some triggers are not visual so the program uses more than just virtual reality goggles to treat patients – "the virtual reality, the sights, the sounds the smells we use to address parts of that horrific event that has created anxiety," she said.

Dr. Beidel said that veterans can have many triggers that can lead to flashbacks too. For example, fireworks, helicopters, even trash on the road. 

"Their brain knows they are on I-4 but the second they see that trash, they may have a flashback to trash in Iraq or Afghanistan – where it wasn't just trash, it was an IED that was ready to explode," she explained.

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During the sessions, doctors also monitor the patient's vitals to better help with their treatment. 

"We have integrated physiological sensors so now when a therapist is treating their patient they're actually going to be able to see the changes in their heart rate and the changes in their sweating," Dr. Beidel said. "That helps know when to end the treatment session and that makes your therapy better."

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