Virtual reality tool to help stop smoking

Could virtual reality help people stop smoking?

LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) -- We all hear about virtual reality and how its advancing gaming. It's also becoming a premier tool in the medical field.

In Elizabethtown, a company with a focus on changing bad behaviors is taking this technology into local clinics, starting with smokers.

When patients put the goggles on, they feel like they are really experiencing what they see. 

Across the country, the health field has used virtual reality to help patients cope with PTSD, phobias and pain management. Aaron Gani is taking it a step further.

"What's changed recently is the capability of technology," Gani says. "Prices are going down rapidly and the capabilities are going up."

Gani founded the BehaVR Institute, based in Elizabethtown. Now in its second year, the goal is to immerse patients into a world that will help them quit bad behaviors which often lead to chronic disease, like obesity and opioid addiction.

UofL's tobacco clinic is in the first stages of a new clinical study with BehaVR.

Most people already know that smoking is bad for them. Still, 480,000 people die of smoking-related deaths in the US each year.

"What people need help with is finding what matters to them and their motivation," Gani says.

Gani says this new reality combines focus, retention, and emotion. It's been called an "empathy machine" because it allows our brains to experience this differently than any other digital media.

"We take you on a tour of a smoker's body, how smoking is harming your body, we do guided mindfulness, and coping aids," he says. "The most effective treatment is a combination of meds and counseling. So if this device can provide some of that support without having another person involved it's going to increase quit rates incredibly."

Rachel Keith says a person who tries to quit smoking on their own usually has about a 3-6 percent chance of success. "Tobacco treatment's complicated. You have to be fairly aggressive with a lot of people," she notes.

She says with a cessation clinic, your chances of quitting go up to 70 percent. "Going through that demonstration right now, I'd never smoke a cigarette," she says.

It's the hope for each patient who puts on the goggles, no matter what behavior they're trying to change. 

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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