Montana veterans testing groundbreaking virtual reality software - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Montana veterans testing groundbreaking virtual reality software

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MISSOULA- A virtual reality software created in Western Montana is diagnosing veterans with a disorder that’s often mistaken for PTSD.

Brian Barnes spent three years in the US Army. He worked for a specialized group that trained for combat in extreme climates and terrain. After serving overseas in Afghanistan, he came back, as so many do, with unseen injuries.

“I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD,” Barnes says.

Now, he’s testing a new product that was designed to help him better identify and treat his issues. Jason Zentgraf, a health and human performance specialist with the nonprofit group RIVER, says sometimes veterans suffer from another disorder related to PTSD.

Vestibular disorder is damage to the inner ear caused by loud noises. Left untreated, it can cause problems for everything from balance to mood.

“In December of 2016, there was a test conducted by the VA that out of this group of veterans with PTSD, 81 percent of them also had an undiagnosed and untreated vestibular disorder,” Zentgraf said.

The symptoms of vestibular disorder are so similar to PTSD that many veterans have it and don’t know, Zentgraf said.

Until now. A new virtual reality system called Virtual Mind is helping diagnose and treat vestibular disorder. The test uses multiple sensors and controllers to test visual and auditory reaction time, mobility and working memory, using eight tests that ask the viewer to move through a realistic virtual environment. It also includes tests for eye-tracking and balance.

Virtual Mind teamed up with the Missoula-based Rural Institute Veterans Education and Research, RIVER, to see how the tests could help local veterans who experience PTSD and related issues. Four of the five veterans they originally tested had symptoms of vestibular disorder.

“We started learning about it and learned about the correlation of PTSD, tramautic brain injuries and vestibular disorder,” Zentgraf said.

Erik Guzik, cofounder of the Virtual Mind software, says it’s a huge improvement over current cognitive tests used for conditions such as concussions, strokes and even Alzheimer’s. Many such tests were originally done with pen and paper, where patients were asked to complete simple tasks like assigning letters and numbers in a specific order, like A-1 and A-2.

Today, many such tests are done with computer programs, but Guzik sees room for improvement. A virtual reality test, using goggles like those pictured below, offers a more engaging environment for the patient.

“We’re capturing the [reaction] time automatically with the software and we’re also capturing mistakes automatically, so it’s more engaging and accurate,” Guzik says.

After initial trials on 60 subjects, developers of Virtual Mind are now working with a group in California to see if VR can help diagnose and treat patients with Alzheimer’s or strokes. The next phase will test 150 subjects.

Patients like Barnes say virtual reality offers another benefit: it’s more fun.

“It was pretty sweet,” he says.

To learn more about this software please visit vrmind.co. If you're interested in participating or working with Virtual Mind, contact Erik Guzik, Co-Founder of Virtual Mind, at erik@vrmind.co.

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