According to the American Psychiatric Association, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 9% of adolescents and 4.1% of adults in the United States. Many of them are on prescription medication to reduce the symptoms, which include difficulty paying attention and remaining focused. Two new start-up companies are developing video games to treat ADHD.
Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts, which was created by start-up-creating firm PureTech Ventures, and Brain Plasticity Inc. of San Francisco, California are seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a videogame treatment they hope physicians will recommend before prescribing medicines for ADHD.
The companies’ projects are based on research, which suggests that action videogames can sharpen players’ ability to concentrate, and may have other medical or health benefits. Last April, University of Toronto researchers reported that action videogame play causes improvement in “visual attention,” which is needed to drive a car or track changes on a computer display. In 2010, University of Rochester and University of Minnesota researchers found that action videogames can train individuals to make the right decisions faster.
If proven effective, physician-prescribed video games could treat neurological illnesses without exposing patients to the side effects seen with today’s medications such as Ritalin. Psychotherapy and medication can reduce ADHD symptoms; however, the side effects of stimulants, the most widely used medicines, can include decreased appetite, sleep problems, anxiety and irritability. These companies face an uphill battle because the FDA has never approved a video game as a medical therapy. Furthermore, despite their side effects, today’s ADHD medicines generally are well tolerated and effective.
Akili co-founder Eddie Martucci, PhD noted that his company’s research shows that people want choices other than today’s powerful medicines. He explained, “We would aim to have efficacy and tolerability that outstrips any of the drugs. Dr. Martucci is part of a team of PureTech entrepreneurs that forms start-ups with new approaches to medical and research problems. Approximately two years ago, they began looking for ways to treat neurological disease without drugs or invasive procedures. This led them to the field of video game research, where researchers were discovering correlations between videogame skill and cognitive functions.
Read more at Video games under development to treat ADHD.