Video Games in Early Alzheimer’s Detection
Healthcare sees a big trend in the development of video games for a wide variety of treatments, with significant implications for the future. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the advancement of sensor and optical technology has led to the emergence of a plethora of video games that assist with the retraining of both physical and mental deficits in patients with a variety of conditions. Alzheimer’s is just one of the conditions that are benefitting from the use of gaming technologies for rehabilitative purposes.
Alzheimer's continues to be studied at length to determine its cause and help with prevention efforts, as the disease affects over 5 million people. Medical studies have found lack of physical activity, poor diet, and high-stress levels to be contributing factors to cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s yet it remains challenging to make a firm early diagnosis of the disease.
One mobile app Sea Hero Quest has become the largest dementia study in history, with data from over 4 million players, producing valuable information for early Alzheimer’s detection. These findings are crucial to Alzheimer’s intervention because results detected the disease in those who were not yet showing visible signs. This data shows a decline in areas other than memory, one of the first noticeable early symptoms. While this game analyzes skills such as spatial processing, awareness, and coordination, memory testing remains the standard diagnostic testing for Alzheimer’s disease for the time being.
The American Occupational Therapy Association has cited the use of low-cost virtual reality and other gaming technologies as beneficial in rehabilitation settings. Allowance for a high number of repetitions and the ability to track quantifiable data are just some of the advantages of using virtual reality within a therapy session. The increased availability and precision of even inexpensive virtual reality devices are making for broader access to resources to assist with increasing function in most patients.
Specifically related to Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive diagnoses, the high number of repetitions virtual reality provides can create lasting changes in the brain which are required to make significant functional gains. In other words, virtual reality and other video games offer a high demand of practice opportunities not afforded by other treatment methods in a session. This also creates changes within the nervous system which can improve a range of functional areas.
Occupational therapists along with software engineers are working together to create a growing database of video games that can be used to maximize potential gains while keeping adverse side effects of video games at a minimum. The mixture of gaming and therapy allows for more individualized, meaningful treatments to address functional participation and satisfaction related to task completion.
Leisure and social participation are some of the significant areas where video games can play a role in skill-building, along with other mental regions including attention, reciprocal interactions, self-image, frustration tolerance, insight, the flexibility of thought, and more. Video games can also serve to improve a range of physical deficits including coordination, strength, balance, activity tolerance, range of motion, among others. Each of these skills has an enormous impact on a person’s functional participation.
Research has shown that patients report increased levels of attention and engagement in a virtual environment when compared to real-life task practice. This level of participation is promising for the continued and growing use of video games as a means for rehabilitation. Video games of any kind can easily be a central part of rehabilitating any deficit, as there are many skills and symptoms which gaming can assist in improving.
These benefits are promising, though a therapist should always evaluate the use of such treatments. The accuracy, reliability, and validity of new video games and other technological advances must be tested before used in a clinical setting, but with the growing popularity of video games in healthcare settings, user testing and research are expected to meet the demand.