Monday January 18, 2021

Computer game to treat depression being made

Published : 14 Jan 2021, 01:42

Updated : 14 Jan 2021, 10:40

  DF Report

Press Release Photo : Aalto University.

A research group headed by Aalto University Professor Matias Palva is developing a computer game that may help in the treatment of depression as well as for therapy and drug treatment, said the university in a press release on Wednesday.

Globally, depression is a leading cause of disability and costs incurred from depression make up one-eighth of the costs of all types of brain disorders.

Playing a therapeutic action game can ease symptoms in patients with depression and improve their cognitive performance.

The game looks and feels like a modern action video game, where the player solves challenges in a fantasy city. Where it differs from entertainment games, however, is that there is a complicated network of features beneath the surface, which together produce a therapeutic effect.

The computer game has its origin in research into amblyopia or lazy eye. In a study testing a drug for amblyopia treatment, the researchers observed that that the patients’ visual acuity improved with the help of a perceptual training video game. Drug treatment had no effect on visual improvement.

“We noticed that the targeted video game makes it possible to alleviate the symptoms of a brain disease that was thought to be permanent,” said Matias Palva. The previous version of the game was tested in a clinical study involving the Helsinki University Hospital’s Psychiatry Department, the University of Helsinki, and Mental Hub.

Trial participants played a computer game for eight weeks during which symptoms of depression eased and cognitive function improved among active players, although the change was not as great as what was achieved through conventional treatments. In the next phase, the research team will work on developing the game to boost its therapeutic effects, which will be tested in controlled experiment with patients.

Work taking place between therapy sessions is important in the successful treatment of patients with depression. Cognitive skills can be practised daily, and the game can support it.

“The number of people who suffer from milder symptoms of depression is two to three-fold compared to those with diagnosable depressive syndromes. There is great demand for all cost-effective aids for all these groups,” said University of Helsinki Professor of Psychiatry and HUS Psychiatry Department’s Chief Physician Erkki Isometsä.

Isometsä, however, emphasises that the game has its limitations.

He said, “It is not suitable for the elderly, for those with severe psychotic depression, or as the sole form of treatment, but potentially, it is very scalable, and it is good to test its potential.”