Researchers Say Digital Therapy Video Game Shows Encouraging Results For Children With ADHD

Researchers at Akili Interactive Labs claim that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could greatly benefit from playing a digital therapy “video game.” According to Medical Daily, there is an “estimated 5 percent to 11 percent” children with ADHD who are prescribed drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall that have side effects that can cause health issues “as they [children] grow, such as nervousness, appetite suppression, insomnia, and even increased blood pressure and heart rate.”

However, initial results of the pilot study for the company’s Project: Evo offer encouraging results, including improved attention, inhibition and working memory in children with ADHD. The Huffington Post reported that after Akili Interactive Labs conducted a study with 80 children with ADHD – between the age of eight and 12 – they’ve decided to “move full steam ahead” when it was a success.

“We’ve been through eight or nine completed clinical trials, in all cognitive disorders: ADHD, autism, depression,” said Matt Omernick, who is the executive creative director at Akili. He spent years creating Star Wars games, but is now focused on creating games that will improve mental health conditions. Researchers believed that Omernick’s latest videogame, could be the first prescription-strength video game, but they are currently awaiting the approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

In their study, the 80 children had to play the video game for 30 minutes per day, five days a week for a month. Researchers then tested the children’s attention span, impulsivity, and working memory and found remarkable improvement. The results were essentially the equivalent to those who take Ritalin and Adderall for ADHD. The parents of the children who participated in the study have stated that the game was “worthwhile for their children with ADHD.”

“The qualities of a good video game, things that hook you, what makes the brain, snap, engage and go, could be a perfect vessel for actually delivering medicine,” said Omnerick. “The first time those three letters were uttered in a group setting, everyone’s like, ‘Oooo, that’s scary, do we want to do that?'”

“These data demonstrate that Project: EVO improved attentional functioning and working memory in children with ADHD,” said Scott Kollins, who is a psychiatry professor and ADHD Program director in Duke University School of Medicine. Kollins also stated that although the results may be “preliminary,” it is an indication that the videogame could in fact replace the drugs that are used for children with ADHD.

Although directors are optimistic about the first prescription-strength video game, Tim Chang, who is the managing director at Mayfield Fund, says that “If it says ‘FDA approval needed’ in the business plan, I myself scream in fear and run away,” because he knows just how tedious and expensive it could be to get the FDA’s approval. “That’s what’s been scary about going the regulatory path,” he added. “You’re waiting and waiting and waiting for FDA approval, going through all these different clinical tests, and you could run out of money easily before you get through that.”

“It’s really out of sync with the way we think of product iteration. We’re more on the order of days and real-time changes, where you’re pushing out app updates every week. Then you’re going into the land of the big, big budgets.”

“When you look at the percentage of individuals that are playing video games [59 percent] and overlay that with the percentage of individuals that have chronic conditions or need some assistance from the medical perspective [45 percent], the relationship is pretty strong,” says Willis Gee, who is the “director of information technology strategy and innovation at health insurer Cigna.”

“People want to do things that are fun,” says Gee. “So, we have to be there with them. As an industry, we’re going to have to reorient ourselves around what it is we’re really trying to do. And if, at the end of the day, the goal is about improving health, then we may need to revisit the way we are quantifying outcomes.”

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