Video game touted as ADHD therapy

By Greg Hamilton • Published: February 5th, 2018
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Researchers around the country are looking for new ways to treat pediatric attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and a Boston company says it has developed a video game that has shown significant success.

Akili Interactive Labs reported that in a trial of 348 children between the ages of 8 and 12 diagnosed with ADHD, those who played the game on a tablet over four weeks saw significant improvements on metrics of attention and inhibitory control when compared to children who played a similar video game that was designed as a placebo.

The action-packed game has players go down a molten lava river and through a winter wonderland where they are rewarded with points and stars as they complete tasks. The company says the game delivers targeted algorithms that activate certain neural networks. This, they said, differs from other apps and games that help patients manage their condition by delivering cognitive behavioral therapies.

The company recommends kids play the game for 30 minutes five days a week for four weeks. They said only 11 of the trial participants reported headaches or frustration, which they said was better than the side effects often associated with drugs used to treat ADHD.

Not everyone is sold, however. Parents and physicians who observed the trials perceived about the same amount of improvement in the children’s behavior no matter which game they were playing. Plus, it has not been tested against ADHD medications or psychotherapy and questions remain as to whether insurers will cover it.

Despite some skepticism, the company plans to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration for what it says would be the first prescription video game.