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Video Game Offers Promising Results for Treating Depression

Video Game Offers Promising Results for Treating Depression

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  • Depression can be treated using a video game interface called Project: EVO.
  • Project: EVO targets cognitive issues associated with depression at a neurological level.
  • Project: EVO was designed to improve their focus, attention and to prevent people from being easily distracted.

Depression can effectively be tackled using a video game that helps to improve focus and attention at neurological level.

The video game interface targets underlying cognitive issues associated with depression rather than just managing the symptoms.


"We found that moderately depressed people do better with apps like this because they address or treat correlates of depression," said Patricia Areán, a UW Medicine researcher in psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

First Study

The first study enrolled older adults diagnosed with late-life depression, who were over 60 years of age, into a treatment trial.

People with late-life depression are known to have trouble focusing their attention on personal goals and report trouble concentrating because they are so distracted by their worries.

They where 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).

The participants were required to play the game five times a week for 20 minutes and attend weekly meetings with a clinician

Project: EVO that runs on phones and tablets and is designed to improve focus and attention at a basic neurological level.

The results showed that the group using Project: EVO demonstrated specific cognitive benefits such as improve attention, mood and self-reported functions compared to the behavioral therapy

"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," said Joaquin A. Anguera, researcher in neurology and psychiatry.

Project: EVO was designed to help people better focus their attention and to prevent people from being easily distracted.

The compliance by participants was more than 100%.

Joaquin A. Anguera of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is the lead author, and Areán is the senior author. The results were published on January 3rd, in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Second Study

This study 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).
People who were mildly depressed showed improvements in all three groups, including the placebo.

But those individuals who were more than mildly depressed showed a greater improvement of their symptoms following their use of Project EVO or iPST compared to the placebo.

The researchers stress that the apps should be used under clinical supervision because without a human interface, people were not as motivated to use it.

In this study, 58% of participants did not download the app.

A second study was another joint effort by UW and UCSF. Patricia Areán is the lead researcher on the study published December 20th in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).

Project: EVO is currently undergoing multiple clinical trials for use in cognitive disorders including Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury and pediatric attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the company is on path for potential FDA clearance for the game's use to treat pediatric ADHD.


  1. Joaquin A. Anguera et al. Improving late life depression and cognitive control through the use of therapeutic video game technology: A proof-of-concept randomized trial. Depression and Anxiety; (2016) DOI: 10.1002/da.22588
  2. Patricia Areán et al. The Use and Effectiveness of Mobile Apps for Depression: Results From a Fully Remote Clinical Trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research; (2016) DOI: 10.2196/jmir.6482

Source: Medindia

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