Can Computer Games Help Treat Depression?

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wasdWhat does treatment for depression look like to you? A bottle of pills? Counseling sessions? Computer games? That last one may sound out of place, but according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications computer games are able to improve severe depression in elderly patients just as effectively as widely prescribed antidepressants such as Lexapro.

For the purposes of the study, the team of researchers designed two computer games. One asked patients to press a button every time a ball change color, while the other instructed patients to order and categorize lists. The first game acted as a test for attention and accuracy. The second game tested for speed and accuracy. Both got more difficult the better the player performed.

At the end of four, 30-hour weeks of gaming, the researchers saw that the participants’ depression conditions improved as much and faster than with the use of traditional medications. Notably, the patients involved in this study had been unaffected by prescribed drugs, which suggests this treatment may be especially effective for those who are affected by medication-resistant depression.

“Our findings suggest that the health and functioning of brain circuits responsible for executive functions are important for recovery from depression,” lead study author Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, a research neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told LiveScience. Executive function refers to the skills a person needs to really change their behavior, like planning and organizing.

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