Prescribing a Video Game to Treat Brain Injury?

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Could a video game ever be prescribed to treat brain injury? Some doctors are skeptical, but one developer is willing to go through the rigors to meet the requirements of the FDA.

What would you think if your doctor prescribe a video game as part of your brain injury treatment? Would you look forward to a new technique or question whether a game could really have therapeutic effects?

That’s the debate swirling around Gazzaley Labs’ new video game Neuroracer. Psychology professor Randall Engle from the Georgia Institute of Technology told NPR the idea is absurd:

“We’re really talking about a biological system. . . . The idea that you can do some little computer game for half an hour a day for 10 days and change that system is ludicrous on the face of it.”

Engle has reason to be skeptical. Game companies and stores across the country are trying to cash in on the idea that games can make your brain healthier. They market “brain fitness” games using salespeople called “brain coaches” and sales strategies like a “Word and Memory” section.

To overcome that debate, developer and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, is submitting his video game to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval as a medical treatment. His goal is that one day, doctors will be able to prescribe Neuroracer to treat everything from traumatic brain injury to ADHD.

In particular, Neuroracer and several follow-up games will target three classes of cognitive ability — working memory, attention and goal management. Gazzaley says that these three mental activities overlap.

“If you have a problem with any of them, it’s going to propagate,” he says. “You’ll have a problem with memory; you’ll have a problem with school or work or relationships or safety in driving. . . . If you can apply selective pressure to one of them, using the video game mechanics, you will be able to see benefits across domains,” he says.

Once the video game is turned over to the FDA, it will be subjected to intense clinical trials like any other drug or treatment program. This is something missing from other “brain fitness” games.

Studies done by video game companies often use very small sample sizes without any control group. The FDA’s testing, which could take several years, will be much stronger by comparison.

If the FDA approves Neuroracer as a medical device, doctors across the country will be able to prescribe the video game to help their patients improve their attention, working memory, and goal management – three key areas for brain injury patients with occupational therapy challenges – and help them get back to where they were before their accident.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, MI. He and his team help brain injury patients get insurance benefits to cover all of their treatments, including occupational therapy. If you or someone you know has suffered a brain injury accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.