A new study reveals video games can help ADHD, depression, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.

For over a decade, the team at Neuroscape lab has tested video games in hopes of developing supportive methods to treat mood disorders like depression and brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, ADHD, autism, and others.The healthcare sector continues making significant advancements, but could the next one be through video games?

According to a new study from the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Neuroscape lab, this unlikely source may be the healthcare sector’s next frontier.

Neuroscape Lab

For over a decade, the team at Neuroscape lab has tested video games in hopes of developing supportive methods to treat mood disorders like depression and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, autism, and others.

Adam Gazzaley, Director at Neuroscape Lab, and his team believe concentrated doses of video games can improve multitasking and memory issues. Additionally, they think schools should use video games to assist children with ADHD.

Gazzaley further suggests that first-person shooter video games like Call of Duty have shown to “benefit high cognitive abilities,” such as multitasking and focusing for long stretches of time.

“There are two ways for people to take back control: modifying behavior or enhancing the brain,” said Gazzaley.

Which is why the Neuroscape Lab has partnered with Boston-based tech company Akili to bring their studies to fruition.

Neuroscape Lab’s Project: EVO

Together, Neuroscape Lab and Akili have developed Project: EVO, a mobile game that could be used someday as a prescription video game for children with ADHD.

The two are seeking to validate the game so it can stand out from other brain-training companies. To do so, Project: EVO must go through the process of being FDA approved.

The project has recently entered the clinical trial phase, which typically lasts one to four years, with only 25 to 30 percent moving onto the final stage.

So while Project: EVO has gotten far, it still has a way to go.

If the does FDA approve the game, it will lead to the U.S.’s first ever prescription video game. Moreover, the approval will also bring forth a new and innovative method of treatment: digital medicine.

In addition to this particular game, Neuroscape is working on more video games. One is called Body Brain Trainer, and the other is a still in-development video game called Labyrinth, involving an HTC Vive and a Virtuix Omni platform.

The Pushback and Support

As expected with any innovative development, the concept of video games being medically beneficial has received criticism.

In 2014, a group of 69 scientists and researchers published an open letter in opposition of brain-training video games.

“We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do,” said the open letter.

Additionally, Alan Smithers, Director of the Center for Education at the University of Buckingham, disagrees with Gazzaley’s studies.

“The effectiveness of these studies needs to be judged with some care,” said Smithers. He believes the studies are not definitive and should be “taken with a pinch of salt.”

Interestingly, a group of 120 scientists and researchers issued a dissent—in response to the group that stood in opposition—where they pointed out that a “substantial and growing body of evidence shows that certain cognitive-training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function.”

Matt Omernick, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Akili, also spoke about the growing body of evidence mentioned in the dissent.

“I think it’s just that the evidence hasn’t been clearly shown yet and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he explained.

Similar Tech Already In UseIn addition to this particular game, Neuroscape is working on more video games.

While brain-training video games may be a novel concept, it is not the only form in which technology has crept its way into the healthcare sector.

For years now, medical schools have used virtual reality simulators to train their students. This use of technology has become so prominent it is seen as essential to the training process.

“This center supplements the hands-on training our students receive during supervised direct patient care and provides a safe environment where they can develop advanced skills critical to starting residency training,” said Heidi Chumley, MD, MBA, Executive Dean and Chief Academic Officer at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC).

AUC just celebrated the opening of their new 6,800 square-foot simulation and education center, which employs virtual reality to enhance surgical skills and simulates operating room scenarios as well as patient meetings.

Technology is also currently under development to help simulate the sense of touch during surgeries.

“To be able to feel the tissue and the way the instruments feel in your hand would ultimately be the holy grail of what we want to accomplish,” said Dr. Brian Gantwerker, MD, Medical Advisor at Level Ex.

“And for simulating a disaster, it’s much better to have a problem in the virtual world and learn how to manage it. This adds a layer of safety and space to learn an instrument.”

Here To Stay

The team at Neuroscape is well aware of the controversy surrounding their work with video games and maintain that their efforts stand apart.

Neuroscape tries to “reach beyond gamified exercises and create engaging and immersive video game experiences. We are increasingly integrating both cognitive challenges and physical movement,” said Gazzaley.

According to The Verge’s Lauren Goode, they were not far off. Goode reported that the physically challenging video games she tested out were markedly different from just sitting at a computer screen.

Gazzaley remains hopeful that these video games will impact people’s lives positively.

“If these games could be used to improve the functions of the brain, we could make a big difference,” he said.