Try out Virtual Reality (VR) to help research
It’s something out of a fantasy novel or a movie: You strap on a pair of oversized goggles, and suddenly you’re somewhere else. When you turn your head, you can see new scenes: a kitchen, a grocery store, your hands, and other 3-D images that aren’t really there.
Rather than just leaving these high-tech devices to the younger generation, researchers want older adults to take part in studies of virtual reality, or VR. This summer the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) is seeking adults ages 18 to 75 to try out VR in two studies.
During a four-hour visit to the NIH’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, participants will sit in a chair and put on a headset that displays 3-D images. Then they’ll navigate a series of tasks, such as sitting at a kitchen table and sorting pills and walking through a virtual grocery store.
“It’s pretty realistic,” said Jim Holdnack, Ph.D., a staff scientist at the NINR Advanced Visualization Branch.
After the seated activities, participants will take a survey to rate their responses. “We want to make sure that people have a positive experience,” Holdnack said. “We want to evaluate if a virtual shopping experience feels like a real shopping experience and is easy to use for all participants.”
In addition, the first phase of the study will evaluate whether or not the headset causes motion sickness, a rare side effect.
“There’s nothing in it that should cause that, but sensitive people can feel that way,” Holdnack said.
Other factors can cause cognitive fatigue
Although VR sounds like simply a fun, novel technology, it has practical uses. Researchers use it “to measure how people respond to complex stimuli in a controlled environment. Cognitive fatigue can result in serious consequences such as mistakes and accidents. Researchers want to see if VR can be used to learn more about cognitive fatigue,” according to NIH’s study protocol.
Therefore, for the study’s second phase, NIH researchers will recruit 60 more people to make two visits to Bethesda. Again, they’ll be seated and will be presented with several scenes.
“Part two of the study is about understanding how an activity of daily living, such as shopping, can produce cognitive fatigue,” Holdnack explained.
To that end, his team has designed three types of shopping experiences. One is “mellow and relaxed,” he said. The second will provide a shopping list and ask participants to navigate the store. The third scenario “is a stressful shopping trip. It’s noisy; things are misplaced,” Holdnack said.
“A lot of things in life that cause fatigue don’t have to do with mental work,” he said. “If you add stress to the cognitive workload, as with shopping, does that create an additional sense of mental work?”
Holdnack said his team is specifically looking for people over age 55 for its VR studies. Participants will be learning a new skill, testing a novel technology and exercising the brain.
“It’s mentally challenging because you’re learning something,” Holdnack said. “If you’ve never done VR before, it’s a little bit of a learning experience.”
To participate or find out more about VR studies, call (301) 496-6221. Or contact Office of Patient Recruitment at 1-800-411-1222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and refer to study number NCT04883359.