Playing mobile-based video games may help better treat depression by targetting underlying cognitive issues associated with the disorder, rather than just managing the symptoms, scientists say.
Researchers enrolled older adults diagnosed with late-life depression into a treatment trial where they were randomised to receive either a mobile, tablet-based treatment technology called Project EVO or an in-person therapy technique known as problem-solving therapy (PST).
Project EVO 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 attention) compared to the behavioral therapy and saw similar improvements in mood and self-reported function.
“We found that moderately depressed people do better with apps like this because they address or treat correlates of depression,” said Patricia Arean, a researcher at University of Washington. “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, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
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.
The mobile technology was designed to help people better focus their attention and to prevent people from being easily distracted.
Most of the participants had never used a tablet, let alone played a video game, but compliance was more than 100 per cent, researchers said. The participants were required to play the game five times a week for 20 minutes, but many played it more.
In another study researchers randomised more than 600 people across the US assessed as moderately or mildly depressed to one of three interventions: Project EVO; iPST, an app deployment of problem-solving therapy; or a placebo control (an app called Health Tips, which offered healthy suggestions).
Researchers found that people who were mildly depressed were able to see improvements in all three groups, including the placebo.
However, those individuals who were more than mildly depressed showed a greater improvement of their symptoms following their use of Project EVO or iPST versus the placebo. The results provide great potential for helping people who do not have the resources to access effective problem solving therapy, researchers said. The study was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.