Video Game Shows Promising Signs as Effective Alternative Treatment for ADHD

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Yaneff_011115Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a brain or behavioral disorder that can begin in early childhood and continue into adolescence and adulthood. Estimated to affect 10 million school children in the U.S., the condition is characterized by a lack of concentration, age-inappropriate impulsiveness, learning difficulties, mood swings, frequent tantrums, impaired memory, poor coordination, and a lack of social skills. Stimulant medications—such as the amphetamine Adderall and the methylphenidate Ritalin—are most often used to treat ADHD.

In a new open-label pilot study, a game developer is aiming to discover an alternative treatment for kids with ADHD that could possibly replace or be combined with ADHD drugs. Akili Interactive Labs Inc. developed Project EVO—a video game that interacts with cognitive functions. Researchers noticed an improvement in ADHD symptoms in children who play the game.

The video game is designed to enhance the child’s problem-solving abilities, memory, and attention span by stressing the part of the brain that processes multiple information streams. The study was presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s 62nd Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

“Every second of game play is forcing an individual to process two streams of information at ever-increasing high levels,” explained Dr. Edward Martucci, who is the founder and CEO of Akili Interactive Labs Inc.

Many video games contain sensory input features; however, this is the first video game aimed to specifically target certain parts of the brain. The study included 80 children between the ages of eight and 12 years old. Half of the children suffered from ADHD but they were also not taking medication to treat the disorder.

The children played the video game on a tablet for 30 minutes daily, fives times weekly, and for four total weeks in their homes. The children rated the video game in terms of how they enjoyed the experience. In order to play the game, the player must lead a character down a river. The player has to make decisions about objects as gameplay becomes steadily more difficult.

“You’re kind of steering this character by tilting the iPad back and forth,” says Dr. Martucci. “That’s one stream of input, and it’s constantly adapting; second by second, it’s changing in complexity and difficulty.”

The research team intends the technology to be viewed by children as a video game and not educational software. That being said, the required input involved should activate a neural network that is not commonly seen with traditional video game software.

It is also important to note that none of the children dropped out of the study: “You never see that in an ADHD study. Usually in drug studies, you see a 10% or 15% dropout; we had zero dropouts,” said Martucci.

The study was considered too small to assess whether the participants had a better response by playing the video game for more hours. Akili Interactive Labs plans to arrange a larger study with the video game, and if there are positive results, then they will file for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

Shine is an investor in Akili Interactive Labs Inc. and is also a major manufacturer of ADHD drugs.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Anderson, P., “Video Game May Help Treat ADHD,” Medscape Multispecialty web site, October 29, 2015;
“ADHD treatment now includes playing a video game called ‘Project: EVO’,” Latinos Health web site, October 29, 2015;
Sandle, P., “Videogame maker says study shows its game helps manage ADHD symptoms,” Reuters web site, October 28, 2015;