Rehab, Pain, Alzheimer’s… How Video Games Can Help Heal

Why Doctor: How can video games be a therapeutic tool?

Kathryn Rolland: This can be beneficial for both patients and healthcare professionals and caregivers. Patients First: Video games can literally “entertain” them, especially for pain relief. Take the example of severe burn victims who suffer during manipulations, dressing changes, or even after rehabilitation to re-learn how to move: thanks to virtual reality helmets, they are immersed in a universe far from where they live. For example, in “Snow World” the player develops in an environment of ice and must throw snowballs at penguins… This entertains the patient’s brain, which must return a lot of information related to the game and thus focus on something other than pain. It’s like television, but better because there is interactivity. The idea is to get the patient’s attention in order to distract him from what he is going through. The brain is “deceived”!

So the video game also plays on the patient’s motivation to seek treatment…

Motivation isn’t always great in sick or disabled people… Video game therapy works well for rehab patients, especially those who have had a stroke. In “Voracy Fish”, for example, the player embodies a hungry fish whose goal is to make it grow by devouring other fish. With his hand on the joystick, the patient performs various actions in a playful and colorful environment… which makes him unconsciously perform movements adapted to the rehabilitation of his limbs! It is a tool that encourages you to go further in the rehabilitation process that is so necessary after a stroke.

Another example is the Re-Mission game for children with leukemia who are struggling to dedicate themselves to treatment. The player embodies an antibody that fights cancer cells in his body. In addition to helping them better understand what is happening in their bodies, it is a tool that gives them the impression that they are participating in the fight against the disease. As a result, they are more likely to follow their treatment.

Pain relief, motivation… What other benefits do video games have for the patient?

It is widely used in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. Sea Hero Quest, for example, is a 3D space game. Although the sense of direction is one of the first abilities lost by people with Alzheimer’s disease, the game will help to re-mobilize this ability. And, therefore, to identify, thanks to the behavior in the game, patients who are at risk of developing degeneration, and thus make a preliminary diagnosis. In addition to being a tool for detecting pathology, video games can even be used to slow down their development: for example, first-person shooters can stimulate the patient’s attention and reflexes, which limits the progression of degenerative diseases.

Video games can also be useful in the context of psychological disorders. And especially for patients with phobias (fear of heights, someone else’s gaze, etc.). Like behavioral and cognitive therapy using “impact,” immersing themselves in virtual reality through a simulation helmet allows them to face their fears… but without the risks of the real situation.

You said that video games are also an asset for caregivers and guardians…

For educators, video games can be a guarantee of dialogue. In “Escape” we embody a character who must climb as high as possible through the trees, but beware of falls! This game allows you to better understand what a depressed person can experience with ups and downs – in short, the concept of relapse. It is a mediation tool that allows families to talk about pathology with a person suffering from depression. And thus, knowing what behavior to adopt, how to support… In general, video games can be used to maintain social connections – as confirmed by the World Health Organization during the Covid-related restrictions.

For medical professionals, video games may be of interest primarily for learning. More and more digital tools, such as augmented reality, are indeed being used to train doctors in medical reflexes and surgical gestures. Thus, immersed in a virtual operating room, they can train without risking the health of patients.

Could a video game be the solution to medical deserts and staff shortages?

One of the strengths of video games is the ability to offer a therapeutic object regardless of the presence of the practitioner. In the context of medical deserts and the crisis of nursing staff, this is important. For example, between two sessions of physical rehabilitation with a medical practitioner, a patient can continue rehabilitation with a video game customized to his needs, his difficulties, his progress. Because the doctor will have remote access to all your data and will be able to adapt the video game for you. Not to mention that during this time he will be able to devote himself from flesh and blood to other patients.

Can we imagine video games prescribed by doctors, or even compensated by the social security system?

This is already happening in some countries, such as Australia with Sparx, a game for depressed people: the player must destroy their avatar’s negative thoughts with fireballs. Mention may also be made of EndeavorRX, the very first video game aimed at treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity) in children and prescribed as a drug in the United States. But be careful, video games should not be seen as a cure or cure, nor a replacement for doctors, in short, an open door to a healthcare system completely devoid of human contact! It is just an additional tool that provides concrete solutions, especially in terms of streamlining efforts. Whatever happens, we will always need people to interpret the results on a case-by-case basis and tailor the treatment.

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.