Could Doctors Soon Be Prescribing Video Games For Mental Health?

12 Aug

Treatment for mental health disorders tends to fall into one of three categories: therapy, medication or both. But a neuroscientist wants to change that with a video game he conceptualized that’s being tested for the market. 

Adam Gazzaley, head of the Gazzaley Neuroscience Research Lab at the University of California, San Francisco, developed “NeuroRacer,” a video game that targets multitasking skills through a series of challenges. His preliminary research looked at how the game can help older adults improve mental functioning and saw some promising results.

Gazzaley is submitting the game through the FDA approval process for medical devices in order to have the product rigorously tested, but he’s hopeful that it could one day serve as useful tool for people with psychiatric disorders as well as cognitive decline. The key is through sharpening the networks in the brain that control working memory and attention, which he believes can be a gateway to improving all areas of congnitive ability (including the domains in the brain where the disorders are found).

He told NPR that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the potential for these types of brain games. 

Previous research has found that other video games may ease mental health issues. A 2012 study suggested that Tetris games may assuage flashbacks and other symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

If these types of brain games are approved by the FDA, they could also help address the stigma often attached to seeking therapy or other methods of mental illness treatment. Studies show negative mental health stereotypes act as a barrier to treatment and prevent people from seeking help. The games, as part of a larger treatment plan, could allow people to find relief privately, in the comfort of their own homes.

According to NPR, the value for these brain games is estimated at around $1 billion and is only expected to grow. However, some scientists are still skeptical about the effectiveness, citing the fact that the control center of the brain the games target is a biological system, which makes it highly unlikely that it can be re-programmed.

It’s clear that more research is needed to determine if there is truly a substantial benefit of these tools. What matters most is that those who experience mental health issues are taking the appropriate measures outlined by their doctors to help manage their condition — whether it be video games or otherwise.


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