Will Your Doctor Prescribe Video Games to Treat ADHD?

Health Writer

What if, one day, you took your child to the doctor for ADHD and instead of prescribing pills, he prescribed playing a video game? Today, the recommended treatment for ADHD is a combination of medicationand behavioral/academic interventions. This treatment helps millions of children by increasing focus and attention while decreasing impulsivity and hyperactivity. But many parents are concerned about giving their child medication every day, sometimes as early as three years old. Many parents are looking for alternative treatments – video games might be the answer.

Project:EVO is a computer program designed to reduce symptoms of ADHD . A small study, involving 80 children, half of who were diagnosed with ADHD, found that the children with ADHD who played the video game a half an hour each day, five days a week, had improved attention. The children without ADHD showed no significant difference. The results of the study were presented at the 62nd annual conference of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The video game was created by Adam Gazzaley and a team of researchers at the University of California in San Francisco and was modeled after an earlier game, NeuroRacer, which was developed toimprove cognitive skills in the elderly. A study discussed in Nature magazinereported that this game helped improve multitasking, sustained attention and working memory in older adults and that this improvement was noted six months after the adult were no longer playing the game.

Akili Interactive Labs, the makers of Project: EVO, plan to complete a large clinical study of the affects of the game on children with ADHD in the upcoming months. Once the study is completed, they hope to apply to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have the game approved as a treatment for ADHD so that doctors can prescribe it for their patients. might improve with therapeutic video games, but academic, behavioral and cognitive skills did not show any improvement. Dr. Russell Barkley, a well known doctor and author specializing in ADHD, told the New York Times that he is skeptical that the skills learned during the video game are transferrable to other situations. In other works, playing the game each day might make the child better at playing the game but not necessarily better at paying attention in school.

Brain games, or virtual, electronic therapy, might not be able to replace medication right away but the initial result showed promise of reducing symptoms of ADHD. Akili Interactive Labs is working with Shire Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Adderall, on Project: EVO. The company is also looking beyond ADHD, hoping to develop electronic treatments that could help with Alzheimers, depression, anxiety disorders and autism.

Akili Interactive Labs, however, isn’t the only company looking at the future role of electronics in treatment ADHD and other conditions. Pear Therapeutics is looking to pair apps with medicine, giving each person a software code to play a complementary game when they pick up their prescription. According to Corey McCann, Pear’s founder and CEO, there are 30 conditions where software apps can enhance the effectiveness of medication. The company Ranj partnered with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to develop the game Plan-It Commander, which targets executive functioning skills such as planning, organization and time management as well as social skills.

Time will tell if these types of treatment will work on their own, in conjunction with traditional treatments or will be found ineffective.

For more information on treating ADHD:

Non-Medication and Alternative Treatments for ADHD

Expanded Guidelines for Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD

The Role of Medication in ADHD Treatment

ADHD Treatment

Should Your Child Have Psychotherapy as Part of ADHD Treatment?