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A prescription for “nature” – the potential of using virtual nature in therapeutics

Authors White MP, Yeo NL, Vassiljev P, Lundstedt R, Wallergård M, Albin M, Lõhmus M

Received 3 July 2018

Accepted for publication 20 September 2018

Published 8 November 2018 Volume 2018:14 Pages 3001—3013

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S179038

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Justinn Cochran

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder


Matthew P White,1 Nicola L Yeo,1 Peeter Vassiljev,2 Rikard Lundstedt,3 Mattias Wallergård,3 Maria Albin,4–6 Mare Lõhmus4–6

1The European Centre for Environment & Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital Treliske, Truro, Cornwall TR1 3HD, UK; 2Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Estonian University of Life Sciences, 51014 Tartu, Estonia; 3Department of Design Science, Division of Ergonomics and Aerosol Technology, Lund University, 22100 Lund, Sweden; 4Faculty of Medicine, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lund University, 22363 Lund, Sweden; 5Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, 17177 Stockholm, Sweden; 6Centre for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Stockholm County Council, 11365 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: Many studies suggest that increased exposure to urban greenness is associated with better population health. Accessing nature can in some circumstances, however, be difficult, especially for individuals with mobility constraints. Therefore, a growing body of work is investigating the ways to replace the in vivo experience with forms of “virtual” contact, in order to provide these individuals with at least some benefits of the natural environment. The aim of this paper is to provide a review of previous use of virtual reality (VR) nature in health and care settings and contemplate the potential use of this technology in future. Our central question is whether engaging with virtual nature can contribute to enhanced physical and emotional well-being in housebound or mobility-constrained individuals. We conclude that while contact with real-world nature is preferred, VR use can be an alternative in cases when in vivo contact with nature is not possible. There are many possibilities for the use of VR technology in psychiatric and medical care; however, the risks, benefits, and cost efficiency of these attempts should be carefully assessed and the outcomes should be measured in a scientifically valid manner. The current review has nonetheless demonstrated that VR nature could play a role in each of the proposed mediating mechanisms linking natural environments and health.

Keywords: virtual reality, green space, blue space, clinical use of VR, elderly care, mobility-constrained individuals, life quality, pain relief, life quality

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