Pregnancy

Meet the first FDA-approved video game to treat kids’ ADHD

Taking your medicine may mean a fun gaming session for children 8 to 12 years old with inattentive or combined-type attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The EndeavorRx video game is the first video game approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that is scientifically proven to increase attentional control by strengthening brain activity involved in focus and multitasking. 

ADHD is on the rise—about 6.1 million children received an ADHD diagnosis in 2016. 

Yet about 40% of children go without taking their prescribed ADHD medication, emphasizing the need for alternative treatments.

“Video games and digital therapeutics provide a unique opportunity in a world with limited providers of behavioral health services,” Christopher D. Dietrich, PA-C, DSc, a medical director at Orion Behavioral Health Network in Alaska, tells Motherly. “Having additional modes of therapy with proven benefits expands treatment options for many.”

The EndeavorRx video game works to decrease symptoms of inattention by providing challenging auditory and visual stimuli that require focus when navigating through different courses. Your child’s avatar will need to successfully navigate their character to collect items and avoid potential obstacles. 

The video game is available with a prescription. While EndeavorRx is not intended to substitute ADHD medication, it can be used as part of a treatment program that may also include therapy, medication and other educational activities.

EndeavorRx works to improve attentional control

In the ADHD brain, EndeavorRx teaches the mind to improve your child’s ability to concentrate and effectively switch between tasks. Not only are kids focused on completing their mission, the video game may also have them chase down mystical creatures or use their problem-solving skills to create their own universe.

“I prescribe EndeavorRx with limitations of 20 minutes a day for five days weekly and four weeks. Then there is a pause period and restart the program with a four-week break,” says Dr. Dietrich.

Along with brightly stimulating graphics, the video games provide challenging levels to keep kids focused with cognitively demanding tasks. Research shows that engaging in a challenging task improves brain areas involved in memory and learning.

Consider having your child play at the same time everyday in a quiet place. Establishing a routine while minimizing distractions will maximize the benefits of playing EndeavorRx.

With a doctor’s prescription, the EndeavorRx is downloadable to Apple and Android devices as a supplement to your child’s current treatment plan. Parents can also track their child’s progress using the EndeavorRx Insight companion app.

How is EndeavorRx different from other video games?

EndeavorRx debunks a common myth that ‘video games rot your brain,’ but that doesn’t mean all video games are good for you. 

Research shows that playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty or Borderlands 2 for six or more hours reduced the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus—a brain area critical for memory formation and learning. 

To put it into perspective, the average American spends over 10,000 hours playing video games before the age of 21. Even ‘brain games’ that claim to boost your brainpower are not that good for you either. A 2017 study found that these games, whether they were digital puzzles or word games, did not improve people’s mental abilities or cognition.

EndeavorRx is different because it is backed by years of clinical trials and research studies showing a significant improvement in ADHD symptoms when children play this specific video game. 

An early pilot study showed that gameplay that emphasized multitasking was widely accepted by children with ADHD and led to higher engagement than conventional educational treatment. There was also initial evidence of gameplay improving focus on relevant information for a specific goal compared to educational programs. 

Another pilot study had children with symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity take part in a 4-week targeted attention intervention program delivered through an iPad. Results showed that about 33% of children were no longer considered having inattention with improvements lasting for about 9 months.

A 2020 clinical trial tested the attentional performance of 348 children between the ages of 8-12 after playing EndeavorRx or another digital control intervention. Children who played the video game showed significant improvements in attention compared to the control group. There were also no adverse events associated with playing the EndeavorRx video game.

Recently, a 2021 study studied the effectiveness of the EndeavorRx video game when paired with stimulant medication for children aged 8 to 14. Children played the game for a month followed by a 4-week pause, and another 4 weeks of gameplay. About 68% of parents reported improvements in their child’s ADHD symptoms and a second increased these benefits. Additionally, children who took stimulant medication and played the video game also showed significantly more improvement in attention compared to children not taking stimulants. 

EndeavorRx avoids the dangers of excessive screen time

The Covid pandemic has changed the world and how we communicate with each other. As we move to more teleconferencing and remote learning, a growing concern is the impact of staring at a screen for too long.

“From my most recent knowledge and clinically, there have been studies of significant electronic usage in the past 10 years that show excessive electronic use that is not structured for school or learning shows increased concerns for inattention,” explains Dr. Dietrich.

Research shows that preschool children who spent 2 or more hours of screen time were more likely to have attention problems and a 7.7-fold risk of developing ADHD. Another pediatric study found that excessive screen use is linked to lower brain white matter in areas important in language and literacy. 

“The EndeavorRx treatment ends following its usage, which is generally a good concept for electronic use to have limits,” explains Dr. Dietrich. “From a larger view, all children could benefit from having set parameters on their video game usage in general to help facilitate a physical and social activity that provides variances for their interactions and attention needs.”

Featured expert

Christopher D. Dietrich, PA-C, DSc, a medical director at Orion Behavioral Health Network in Alaska

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