November 23, 2022 – You might not think that children with ADHD have much in common with older adults.
Children struggle to sit still and focus on a task. Seniors are great at sitting quietly, but often have a hard time keeping up the conversation at holiday dinners.
Either way, the problem is attention.
Yes, this is obvious for someone with ADHD. Right there in the name. With ADHD, the brain is constantly looking for new and interesting ways to distract itself.
But older people aren’t looking for distractions. They can’t ignore the distractions that find them.
“Focusing attention has two sides: focus and ignore,” he says. Adam Jazaly, MD, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a process of filtering out irrelevant information that declines with age.”
That’s why Ghazali was invented Endeavor, a therapy video game you may have heard of, especially if your child has ADHD. in 2020, The US Food and Drug Administration has approved EndeavorRx To treat children with ADHD between the ages of 8 and 12, making it the first digital therapy to get the green light for any condition.
What you may not know is that the game was originally used to help the elderly. Or that therapeutic games are now being developed and tested for a wide range of conditions and populations.
Ghazali calls it “experimental medicine” and says it has one major advantage over conventional medicine: It adapts to you. While the patient learns to play the game, the game learns to work with the patient.
How video games act like exercise for your brain
This adaptive quality is key to EndeavorRx and what makes it different from commercial video games. Ghazali calls it an “adaptive closed-loop algorithm”.
Simply put, the game adapts to the player. Better players face more difficult challenges, while those with less skill can still work through the game’s levels and unlock its rewards.
Your brain, in turn, adapts to challenges with structural changes, unlike the adaptations your body does when you exercise.
Just as your muscles respond to strength training by increasing their size and strength, your brain adapts to challenges by forming new connections between and within neural networks. It works the same for all ages, whether you’re an adult who’s never played a video game or a young adult who probably played a lot. (It should also be noted Lots of games It can harm your mental health.)
The brain’s ability to adapt to new information, conditions, or demands is called neuroplasticity, and it is the main advantage that experimental medicine has over pharmacological treatments. Not only do changes in the brain translate into realistic improvements in attention, but it also remains intact after the patient has finished the time allotted with the game.
“It just sticks, and that’s incredibly different from how medications work now,” says Gazalee.
Treating children with ADHD is just one of many potential applications.
“The game has no specificity towards a specific disease or age group,” says Ghazali. “It challenges the brain in a way that leads to this benefit in sustained attention in any population we’ve ever tested.”
Case in point: He and his colleagues at UCSF have now tested closed-loop games with people with depression, multiple sclerosis, and lupus, all of which may affect the ability to focus.
But it all started with one very specific population.
How video games became therapy
In the early 2000s, Ghazali worked with older patients who were experiencing problems with their thinking skills for the first time.
“They would often tell me they were distracted,” he says. “They couldn’t get their attention.”
This led to a series of studies on the source of the problem. in Study published in 2005For example, his research team found that older adults can focus on a task as well as 20-year-olds.
“What they fail to do is ignore,” he explains. “There is a lot of irrelevant information that needs to be filtered out. This is what was causing the damage.”
Subsequent study which was published in 2008 found that the weakness was exacerbated by a slowdown in the brain’s processing speed. It took the older adults longer to decide if the interruption actually required their attention, which meant each distraction was more of a distraction than if it was on their younger selves.
For older adults, these challenges are especially apparent when they are trying to multitask, when you quickly redirect your attention from one thing to another. The ability to multitask usually peaks around your 20th birthday and declines throughout life.
This was the focus of Gazzaley and his game development team at UCSF when they published their preliminary findings in Historical study in 2013.
After playing a game called NeuroRacer (the forerunner of EndeavorRx), the elderly are much better at multitasking – Improvements they maintained at follow-up after 6 months.
And that was not all. The subjects in the study also improved their thinking skills in areas that were not targeted: sustained attention and working memory. It was the first evidence that therapeutic video games could target and enhance these abilities. But it won’t be the last.
Which brings us back to kids with ADHD.
Is there a therapeutic video game in your future?
working memory – The ability to retain information long enough to use it – It is the key to success in school, work and everyday life. Like the ability to focus attention, it is a higher-level executive function, which means that the two processes share some of the same neural networks in the same parts of the brain. Not coincidentally, working memory deficits are just as well One of the hallmarks of ADHD.
But it is Play video gamesAccording to a recently published study. Nine- and 10-year-olds who played commercial video games for several hours a day had better working memory and response inhibition – They stop themselves before allowing a distraction to take them off task – of children who have never played.
Fortunately, children do not need to play several hours a day to reap the benefits.
“We saw linear effects in almost everything we looked at,” he says. Bader Al-Shaarani Ph.Dan assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and lead author of the study.
“Light gamers who played an average of one hour per day showed the same improvements in cognition, response inhibition, and working memory, compared to those who never played video games,” he says. “These effects were moderate between non-video game players and heavy video game players.”
This helps explain why video games have gotten so much attention in neurological, medical, and psychological research.
In addition to EndeavorRx, Gazzaley and his team have developed several other suites for different classes and preferences.
MediTrain, for example, uses digital technology to Help young people master meditationThe timeless practice of stillness and presence.
Rhythm, a musical game designed to help seniors improve short-term memory, too It helps them remember faces. (Grateful drummer Mickey Hart helped develop the game.)
Body-Brain Trainer, another game created for seniors, combines cognitive training with exercise, using a closed-loop algorithm to adjust both interventions according to the user’s ability. Those who used the game for 8 weeks improvement in two measures of physical fitness (blood pressure and balance) as well as in their ability to maintain attention.
Gazzaley plans to demonstrate in a future study how games with different mechanics and cadence — from running to avoid obstacles to drumming to slow meditation — lead to similar improvements in attention.
Again, this is similar to exercise, in that almost any type of training will improve heart health, which in turn reduces the risk of premature death from any cause.
Because there are so many ways to get to the same destination, you can find effective exercise programs to suit any set of abilities and preferences. You can also progress through the fitness program at your own pace.
This may be the way we use therapeutic video games as the category evolves.
“Now that we have so many game types and so many populations, we have a much richer understanding of how these systems push and pull to get these results,” says Ghazaly. “That’s what makes me so excited about the future.”
Games as medicine? It seems worthy of attention.