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Project

Immersive Mental Health

Strengthening mental health with virtual environments and wearable technology

With the Immersive Mental health project, we are exploring how virtual reality combined with wearables can be used to help clients, patients and healthcare professionals relax. 

Date

From until

Supported by

VLAIO | TETRA
www.vlaio.be

What

The Immersive Mental Health project is carried out by researchers of the Centre of Expertise Care and Well-being (research group Mobilab & Care and the research group People and Well-being) with the support of the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Tetra program). During the project we work closely together with healthcare organizations and technology companies. Together we want to improve the mental well-being of care recipients and caregivers by using immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, and wearable technologies (wearables) to measure heart rate, breathing and other biofeedback during their experience.

Immersive technology includes any form of technology that extends reality or creates a new reality, e.g. virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), 360° video, mixed reality (MR) and immersive room or cave VR. These technologies provide a sense of immersion in an artificial environment that replaces or adapts the real environment, so that users become immersed in the newly created environment. In this project we focus on VR and 360° video experienced through VR goggles (headset).

Aim

Within the Centre of Expertise Care and Well-being, the research group Mobilab & Care together with the research group People & Well-being aim to support the healthcare sector (e.g., hospitals, psychiatric centers and mental health organizations) and the developers and distributors of immersive technology and wearables in three main challenges:

  • Compile, translate and disseminate knowledge about the potential of immersive technology combined with biofeedback to
    • Healthcare institutions
    • Technology ventures with a healthcare focus
    • Enterprises developing immersive applications and/or biofeedback
  • Strengthen relationships between these parties and their applications.
  • Introduce substantiated methodologies using such applications in the healthcare context.
  • Development and/or use of existing VR applications combined with wearables to test in different use cases for both healthcare providers and clients or patients.  

Relevance

Stress is an ever-increasing challenge in our society. The health and well-being sector has long struggled with this, and the covid-19 pandemic only compounded this problem. Yet there is currently insufficient knowledge among companies and healthcare institutions about combining both technologies, and this research, together with those companies, will change that.

How could such an immersive application be used in practice?

Alex unexpectedly ends up in the hospital and has to stay there for an extended period of time. That stay begins to weigh on him after a while, and Alex is introduced to a virtual reality (VR) relaxation program. As a result, Alex sees a virtual world that responds to breathing and can be away from the hospital for a while. This brings peace of mind and restores courage to persevere. Moreover, this hospital also deploys the VR relaxation program with its employees. It is good for their well-being because they can escape the work pressure for a while. Once home, Alex can still count on the relaxation program, this time a low-threshold version with a simple headset and his own smartphone. This way, Alex can briefly duck into that other world at difficult moments.

Our role

Mobilab & Care research group is coordinating the project and specifically focusing on the technological component. The researchers contribute the following expertise and knowledge:

  • Integration of the hardware and software needed to achieve biofeedback, including signal processing and algorithm development
  • Use of wearables and sensors
  • Setup and execution of user tests, from study design to reporting

As a partner within Thomas More, researchers from the People and Well-being research group contribute the following expertise and knowledge:

  • Implementation of digital applications for (mental) health care, in this case specifically virtual reality and 360° video
  • Ethical procedures
  • Setup and execution of user tests, from study design to reporting

The researchers can rely on the input of a TETRA guidance group, made up of a mix of healthcare organizations and technology companies.

Researchers

Researcher

Bert Bonroy

Fascinated by how technology can support care today and tomorrow.

Researcher

Glen Debard

Researcher committed to introducing technology in (mental) health care for young and old.

Researcher

Sylvie Bernaerts

Sylvie Bernaerts (PhD) is a researcher in the People and Well-being research group, research line Psychology and technology. Her areas of expertise are immersive technology in (mental) health care and ethics committee applications.

Researcher

Marlon van Loo

Marlon van Loo has been a researcher in the People and Well-being Research Group since September 2022.