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Virtual Reality Therapy May Help PTSD Patients
Date:5/7/2008

ans. All the participants were men in their 20s or 30s, and all had recently been involved in the war in Iraq.

The veterans suffered from a particular aspect of PSTD known as "acoustic startle" -- a form of hyper arousal that causes an uncontrollable reflexive response provoked by sudden loud sounds.

Two-minute video clips were specifically tailored for each veteran to re-enact, as closely as possible, the traumatic event that led to their PSTD. Besides providing imagery and sounds, the computer-generated 360-degree virtual experience also involved mimicked vibrations and smells, such as burning fires and smoke.

Clips, for example, depicted the Iraq war, and included scenes of Humvee vehicles driving alone or in convoys on a desert highway, as well as a soldier on foot patrol in an urban setting.

During treatment, the patients watched the videos through helmets outfitted with tiny TV screens placed in front of each eye, and headphones. Position trackers enabled each veteran to maintain realistic views of his visual environment, the researchers said.

The patients were also divided into three prescription medication groups: the first taking the antibiotic d-cycloserine, the second taking the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, and the third taking a placebo. D-cycloserine has been shown to help boost the learning of safety memories, potentially enhancing the benefits of exposure therapy.

The researchers measured the severity of each veteran's acoustic startle response before treatment, during treatment, and immediately after treatment, as well as three and six months later. By the six-month mark, all the men appeared to benefit from the virtual reality therapy, with startle severity reduced, on average, by 75 percent.

Although the researchers haven't been able yet to analyze the comparative benefits of the three complementary medications, they said the first patient placed on a d-cycloserine regimen experience
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