Video game-like intervention ‘could help improve attention of children with ADHD’

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Video gaming could be a useful tool to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), research suggests.

The new study also indicated that the intervention has minimal adverse effects.

ADHD is a childhood-onset disorder estimated to affect around 5% of people worldwide.

Those with the condition experience persistent impaired attention, hyperactivity or impulsivity.

Professor Scott Kollins of the Duke University Medical Centre, USA, said: “Our trial is one of only a few randomised controlled investigations into digital interventions for children with ADHD.

“The improvement observed in attentional functioning in patients who received the active intervention was meaningful, although more work needs to be done to fully understand whether the findings are clinically meaningful.

“We do not yet know whether this intervention could be considered as an alternative to current treatments.”

Between July 2016 and November 2017, 348 children aged eight to 12 were randomly assigned to receive the digital therapy or a control designed to match the intervention as a challenging and engaging digital word game.

Researchers found significantly more children who received the therapy improved their attention scores.

The study published in The Lancet Digital Health journal sets out that in terms of secondary outcomes including symptom ratings both groups improved, with no differences between them.

A teenager holding a controller to play a video game
Researchers looked at whether video-gaming designed to target attention and cognitive control could improve attention (Yui Mok/PA)

Participants did not take their ADHD medication, and were instructed to use the intervention or control for a total of 25 minutes a day for five days per week.

Scientists found no serious adverse events or discontinuations on the trial.

Only 12 children in the intervention group and three in the control group experienced any treatment-related adverse events, with frustration and headaches being the most common.

Researchers used the Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA) Attention Performance Index (API) as the attention score.

The authors acknowledge several limitations in their research including that four weeks of treatment is relatively short.

They add their results may not be generalisable to the whole population of children with ADHD as milder cases that did not record below a certain attention score were excluded.

Children could not take their usual medication during the trial, which again means the result may not generalise to those who are on medication.

Dr Bruno Bonnechere, department of psychiatry, University of Cambridge, said: “This study provides evidence of the safety and efficacy of a novel specific training programme for ADHD children with severe attentional deficit.

“In the context of the high availability of smartphones and tablets, such a kind of intervention could be used as a complement to conventional care to motivate patients.”

While Dr Louise Theodosiou of the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We welcome research that may increase the range of treatment options available to children and young people with ADHD.

“However, the improvements reported in this study must be considered cautiously given that parents and clinicians did not report a notable improvement in overactivity.

“ADHD has a significant impact on family, social and educational environments, so any viable treatments need to demonstrate improvement across all of these areas.”

The study was sponsored by Akili Interactive Labs, which developed the AKL-T01 digital therapy to engage users through video game graphics and reward loops.

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