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Prescription: One video game
Gaming technology may become new treatment for neurological illnesses


December 2014

Video games have been criticized because they can lead to inactivity. But that bad reputation could be changing as neuroscience researchers test the games as a treatment for ADHD, autism, depression and even Alzheimerís disease.

A group of innovative companies is combining gaming technology with the principles of cognitive psychology to create a new way to treat neurological illnesses. New research suggests that action video games can sharpen playersí ability to concentrate and may have other medical or health benefits. For example, in September 2013, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at the University of California-San Francisco published a paper in the scientific journal "Nature" which showed that playing a specially designed driving game called "Neuroracer" arrested age-related cognitive decline in senior citizens. Now, a Boston-based game maker named Akili Interactive Labs is developing a tablet-based game similar to "Neuroracer" called "EVO." The game is being tested in clinical trials in the hope that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve it for treatment of Alzheimerís disease as well as depression and ADHD.

More familiar brain fitness games like those offered online at claim to help train memory, though the company has no proof of its claims. "EVO" differentiates itself because the manufacturer wants FDA approval and acceptance by the mainstream medical community.

The use of these games would be a change from current medical treatment, which is medication. In all likelihood, the games would be combined with drugs and other therapies.

Video games currently are being used in southeastern Wisconsin as therapy, too. Dr. Amit Jhaveri, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist with Aurora Health Care, specializes in the management of diagnoses, including adult traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders. In some instances, he suggests video game-type programs to help patients in their recovery.

There is growing evidence that virtual reality gaming systems like Nintendoís Wii can help stroke victims regain some arm function and improve balance. It works because the brain apparently has the ability to ramp up function in one area to compensate for injury in another area. Such games can help to "rewire" those brain functions. Itís also more fun than the usual therapy routine, which means patients will stick with it longer.

The clinical trials testing games like "EVO" go beyond what is presently being done. Itís very possible that patients with ADHD or depression may get a prescription for a completely new type of medical treatment within the foreseeable future.



This story ran in the December 2014 issue of: