A new study has found that the EndeavorRx computer game, designed by the Boston-based developer Akili Interactive Labs, proved to help reduce ADHD symptoms in 68% of the 206 children aged between eight and 17 tested during a 12 week multi-centre, open-label study.
In the game, designed for tablets and smartphones, the player has to navigate through motion lava and icy rivers while, e.g., dodging fires and icebergs or grabbing passing-by objects. It includes a series of increasingly difficult challenges that force the player to manage multiple information inputs at a time. During playing, the game algorithm gathers data that allows it to adapt the level of difficulty in real-time in order to meet the individual needs of the player.
By playing the game regularly, it activates the neural pathways in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that is in charge of things like emotions, attention, and the processing of input. This regular activation strengthens the area like physical exercise strengthens muscles. Hence, an improvement in ADHD symptoms could be achieved.
This all sounds pretty amazing. However, some critics argued that there could be a conflict with the initial 2020 study’s credibility, as it was funded by Akili. Consequently, a more independent follow-up study was conducted with 206 children between eight and 17 years of age. The multi-centre, open-label study consisted of three stages: during the first four weeks, the children played the game for five days a week. They then took a four-week break, which was followed by another four weeks of playing the game five days per week.
The results showed that the children exhibited fewer ADHD symptoms during daily life activities following the treatment. As a matter of fact, 50% showed a response after the first round, which remained stable during the break phase, and 68% of participants improved after the second treatment phase.
This was found in both participants who were on medication and those who were unmedicated – something that wasn’t controlled for in previous studies. However, some limitations remained: first, there was no blinded control group included, and second, the game was also not tested in patients who, alongside ADHD, were diagnosed with conditions such as mood or personality disorders, which are both quite common in ADHD patients.
In the US, more than 6.1 million children between two and 17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD. Globally, the disorder affects 5% of the population. For being that common, there are plenty of barriers when it comes to treatment or actually getting a diagnose for the disorder in the first place.
Further, apart from being heavily stigmatised, ADHD medication, especially pills, can lead to severe side effects such as sleeping problems, a decrease in appetite, delayed growth, or tics. Consequently, it is urgent to find a way to treat the disorder in a less invasive way.
By using Selective Stimulus Management, EndeavorRx could be a part of the solution offering a low-risk treatment for ADHD symptoms in children, which can be prescribed by a medical professional by handing out download codes.
However, in order to ensure effectiveness, “further research needs to be conducted, but we are on the right track”, scientists concluded.