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March 13, 2017

Combating depression among the elderly with videogames

Using videogames to combat depression amongst the elderly. Patricia Areán, clinical psychologist at the University of Washington, figured it was worth a shot. Twenty-two patients over 65 got to play a specially developed game during eight weeks. The research team then compared the results from the eight-week study with results of more traditional therapies.

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Depression unfortunately isn’t uncommon among the elderly. Losing their spouse and becoming more socially isolated are important causes. It is thus quite important to keep developing new therapies and techniques to fight depression. Areán’s study might offer an interesting new alternative for those unsatisfied with traditional therapies.

Project: EVO

The participants played the specially developed game Project: EVO, created by Akili Interactive Labs. The game for the iPad had players navigate several different alien worlds by rocket ship. The players were tasked with collecting colour-coded aliens. After completing a level, the rocket ship started to fly a bit faster and targets would accelerate and become harder to identify.

The game was originally created to improve the cognitive functions of children with ADHD. However, the patients participating in this study were all pretty thrilled with it as well.

Big hit among patients

Only twenty-two patients participated in the project, but they were all very much into it. None of them dropped out due to illness or disinterest, which rarely happens, according to Areán. The players noticed improvements in memory and a longer attention span. On top of those positive results, they also were less likely to identify with negative self-descriptions.

These are exciting results, especially since the innovative therapy is more cost-friendly than more traditional therapies. The only investments a patient has to make are the purchase of the videogame and possibly a mobile device.

They also don’t have to travel to a psychologist, but are able to fight depression from the comfort of their own living room. Sharing feelings with a stranger is no longer necessary, which — especially for the older generations — could be quite the relief. 

Developer Akili is waiting for FDA approval before making the game available for purchase. The researchers at the University of Washington hope that their project paves the way for treatment of other diseases. At the moment, it is being assessed whether or not the game could be used to fight ADHD, traumatic disorders and autism.

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