In-depth: Can video games treat certain attention disorders?


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — In the near future, doctors may be prescribing video games instead of prescription pills for certain attention disorders like ADHD.

A team of researchers conducted a study on the treatment of digital medicine.

Researchers inside the UCSF Sandler Neurosciences Center in San Francisco are excited about a study they completed that shows a specially designed video game helped to treat kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

“What you can see here is that the kids who played who had sensory processing difference and inattention after 4 weeks look a whole lot like our kids who were neurotypical to begin with,” UCSF Associate Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics & Psychiatry Elysa Marco said.

She was a part of a digital medicine study that had 63 kids ages 8-to-11 play Project Evo on a tablet for 25 minutes, five days a week.

“In this study, we have an actual measurable brain activity that we can look at pre and post,” Dr. Marco said.

The data and parent feedback revealed that the kids who had ADHD and played Project Evo on a regular basis found it easier to focus and hold their attention on tasks in their daily life at school and at home.

Nate Katz from Larkspur is one of the kids with ADHD who took part in the study.

His mother Beth told KRON4 Nate changed when he was playing Project Evo.

Nate was calmer and it was easier for him to hold his attention.

“He was able to focus better as time went on,” Nate’s mother Beth Katz said.

“When I got into it, it was like getting more interesting, and getting harder, there was like different levels,” Nate said.

Project Evo is not like any other game in the app store.

It features unique sounds and flashes of light that deliver a digital dose of treatment to kids with sensory disorders.

“This is a game that was specifically designed to train sustained and selective attention and also visual motor control, and it was based on decades of neuropsychological research showing where the challenges are as well as some gaming research that shows how to keep kids engaged,” UCSF Associate Professor of Neurology, Pediatrics & Psychiatry Elysa Marco said.

The researchers at UCSF are working with a medical company Akili, with offices in Larkspur, to further develop the game and to help get it on the market.

To get it out of the labs and into doctors’ hands where they can use it as a treatment option, Akili is currently wrapping up another large-scale clinical trial that they told KRON4 again showed signs of success with Project Evo treating ADHD.

“I think it is highly likely that digital treatment will become part of our arsenal as clinicians for treating all sorts of cognitive and behavioral challenges,” Dr. Marco said.

Within the next few months, Akili is going to take the data they have on Project Evo to the FDA for approval.

If they are successful, doctors could soon be prescribing video games instead of drugs.

“If we can with a digital treatment avoid the potential side effects and complications of pharmaceutical treatment, everybody, the parent, the kids, and the doctors are going to be happy,” Dr. Marco said.

“If you can come up with something that actually feels fun to kids that they are actually willing to do and they can get (a) benefit at the same time, seems like a win-win,” Beth said.

This innovation may take medicine to the next level.LINKS:

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