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Video game shows promising results for treating depression

Xinhua, January 9, 2017 Adjust font size:

Two recent studies have shown promising results for treating depression with a video game interface by targeting underlying cognitive issues rather than just managing the symptoms.

The first study enrolled older adults diagnosed with late-life depression into a treatment trial where they were randomized to receive either a mobile, tablet-based treatment technology developed by Akili Interactive Labs called Project: EVO or an in-person therapy technique known as problem-solving therapy (PST).

While people with late-life depression are aged 60 and over and are known to have trouble focusing their attention on personal goals and report trouble concentrating because they are so distracted by their worries, the Project: EVO application, or app, runs on phones and tablets and is designed to improve focus and attention at a basic neurological level, so as to prevent people from being easily distracted.

Most of the participants had never used a tablet, let alone played a video game, but compliance was more than 100 percent. They were required to play the game five times a week for 20 minutes, but many played it more. They also attended weekly meetings with a clinician. The meetings served as a control for the fact that participants in the problem-solving therapy arm were seen in person on a weekly basis, and social contact of this nature can have a positive effect on mood.

"We found that moderately depressed people do better with apps like this because they address or treat correlates of depression," said Patricia Arean, a University of Washington (UW) Medicine researcher in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the senior author of a study published last week in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Lead author of the study is Joaquin A. Anguera, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), researcher in neurology and psychiatry.

The results indicated that the group using Project: EVO demonstrated specific cognitive benefits, such as attention, compared to the behavioral therapy, and saw similar improvements in mood and self-reported function.

"While EVO was not directly designed to treat depressive symptoms; we hypothesized that there may indeed be beneficial effects on these symptoms by improving cognitive issues with targeted treatment, and so far, the results are promising," Anguera was quoted as saying in a news release from UW.

A second study, another joint effort by UW and UCSF, randomized more than 600 people across the United States assessed as moderately or mildly depressed to one of three interventions: Akili's Project: EVO; iPST, an app deployment of problem-solving therapy; or a placebo control, an app called Health Tips, which offered healthy suggestions.

Arean, the lead researcher on this study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JIMR), found people who were mildly depressed were able to see improvements in all three groups, including the placebo. However, those individuals who were more than mildly depressed showed a greater improvement of their symptoms following their use of Project: EVO or iPST versus the placebo.

Noting that much of her research is aimed at providing effective treatment to people who need it, and these results provide great potential for helping people who don't have the resources to access effective problem solving therapy, Arean said the apps should be used under clinical supervision because without a human interface, people were not as motivated to use it. In the JIMR study, 58 percent of participants did not download the app. Endit