Kelcey Sihanourath is happy to see her son Owain pick up his tablet. Many parents worry that their kids spend too much time playing video games.
His attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was first identified while he was a preschooler. He is now 13 years old.
Since then, Owain’s family in Savannah, Georgia, US, has taken him to see occupational therapists to help him do everyday things better.
They also tried giving the boy medicine but had to stop when the drugs made his regular migraines worse and made him sick.
Over the years, Owain’s ADHD has made it hard for him to do well in school. Kelcey says that she was “hoping for more, for any other option.”
“I could see him trying to figure out why he couldn’t pay attention,” she says, “and how frustrated he was when he tried so hard but still got distracted.” “It hurt so bad, but I just couldn’t see a way out, and I felt like I had nothing to give.”
In the end, help came from something that at first seemed very strange: a computer game called EndeavorRx.
The first video game of its sort to receive FDA approval
In 2020, it was the first video game of its sort to receive FDA approval for use in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in youngsters.
EndeavorRx is currently only available in the US with a prescription from a doctor. At first glance, it looks like a lot of other games. You are in charge of a little alien who races through different worlds on a spaceship and has to pick up things.
However, neuroscientists helped create the app-based game. It is meant to stimulate and improve parts of the brain that are important for paying attention.
The idea is that it will teach a child with ADHD how to do more than one thing at once and ignore distractions. A computer algorithm will measure how well the child does and adjust the game’s difficulty in real time.
When a doctor prescribes it, the child’s parents receive an activation link.
Played the game for 25 minutes a day
Kelcey says she was “a little skeptical,” but Owain started a three-month program at the end of 2020 in which he played the game for 25 minutes a day. The next year, he did another round.
“He said it was more difficult than he thought,” she says. “But he knew that he was doing it to help himself focus.” Even though he had a lot of problems and frustrations, he stayed very motivated..
After each session with Owain, she wrote down his daily actions in the app and tracked his progress.
Soon, she saw small, good changes in the way he was acting. For example, it was easier to get ready for school, and teachers didn’t say anything bad to them.
And after failing the third grade, Owain’s grades went from failing to A and B.
Kelcey says, “It’s great to see my son do so well, but it’s even better to see him believe in himself.” “He is no longer mad and confused about why he just doesn’t get it.”
The game improves cognitive progress
Eddie Martucci, CEO of Boston-based Akili, thinks the game improves cognitive progress.
“It is something that is hard to get molecularly, like by taking a pill.” But it turns out that sensory stimuli can directly affect parts of the brain that control how we think.
His company is now planning to release the game in Europe in the next few years.
In London, UK, the app Thymia uses computer games to help doctors and other medical professionals find and diagnose mental health problems, especially depression.
One game, the player has to try to remember moving objects, and in another, he or she has to remember how to play a card game.
In addition to how well the patient does in the game, the app also listens to and watches what they say and how they look. It does this by using the camera and microphone on their computer or mobile phone.
Dr. Emilia Molimpakis, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and experimental psychology from University College London, started the company Thymia (UCL). She runs the business with her co-founder, Dr. Stefano Goria, who has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Turin.
Dr. Goria says that the app “gathers and extracts biomarkers that are important for understanding depression symptoms… in a way that is useful and interesting.”
Apps should supplement doctors’ monitoring and therapies
Both Akili and Thymia claim their apps should supplement doctors’ monitoring and therapies, not replace them. Angela Karanja, a teen psychologist in the UK, agrees.
Ms. Karanja argues, “These inventions are useful, but not alone.” “They should be used with existing [patient evaluation] questionnaires that have been tested and proven to be reliable and valid, as well as with doctors’ input and other treatments.”
Lee Chambers, another UK psychologist, says that the use of these kinds of video games to diagnose, track, and treat mental health problems is still in its early stages, but it seems to have “potential.”
“Getting involved in a game can make us feel less like we are being tested and measured,” he says. “More people can play these kinds of mental health games, and they can track how the baseline data they collect changes over time.”
“Because of this, it could be an early warning sign and show patterns in a way we don’t have right now.”