Virtual Reality Therapy in Palliative Care: A Case Series

J Palliat Care. 2022 Mar 16;8258597221086767. doi: 10.1177/08258597221086767. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Virtual reality (VR) opens a variety of therapeutic options to improve symptom burden in patients with advanced disease. Until to date, only few studies have evaluated the use of VR therapy in the context of palliative care. This case series aims to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of VR therapy in a population of palliative care patients.

Methods: In this single-site case series, we report on six palliative care patients undergoing VR therapy. The VR therapy consisted of a one-time session ranging between 20 to 60 minutes depending on the patient's needs and the content chosen for the VR sessions. A semi-structured survey was conducted and the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) and the Distress Thermometer were performed pre- and post-intervention.

Results: Overall, VR therapy was well accepted by all patients. Five out of six patients reported having appreciated VR therapy. There were individual differences of perceived effects using VR therapy. The semi-structured survey revealed that some patients felt a temporary detachment from their body and that patients were able to experience the VR session as a break from omnipresent worries and the hospital environment ("I completely forgot where I am"). There was a considerable reduction in the total ESAS score post-treatment (T0 ESASTot = 27.2; T1 ESASTot = 18.8) and a slightly reduction in distress (T0 DTTot = 4.4; T1 DTTot = 3.8). However, two patients were more tired after the intervention.Significance of Results: Our preliminary results demonstrate that VR therapy is acceptable, feasible and safe for use within a palliative care population and appears to be a viable treatment option. Clinical trials are both warranted and necessary to confirm any therapeutic effects of VR therapy, as is the need to tailor VR systems better for use in palliative care settings.

Keywords: palliative care; symptom burden; virtual reality.