March 18, 2006 5:56 AM PST

Video game therapy--a new frontier

Doctors pronounced Ethan Myers brain dead after a car accident dealt the 9-year-old a severe brain injury in 2002. After he miraculously awoke from a nearly month-long coma, doctors declared he would never again eat on his own, walk or talk.

Yet, thanks partly to a video game system, Myers has caught up with his peers in school and even read a speech to a large group of students.

"I'm doing the exact same things as them. I'm getting buddies and stuff," said Myers, who had relearned to walk and was reading at a second-grade level before his video game therapy began in May 2004.

"I couldn't remember where I put stuff and now I can. I remember school stuff and people's names," he said in a telephone interview from his family's home in Colorado.

More fundamentally, Myers can now fully open his right hand, which paralysis had curled closed. His brother and sister, who were in the car with him during the accident and each suffered mild brain injuries, have also shown improvement in their memory and other functions.

Ethan and his parents attribute his most recent progress to neurofeedback training on the CyberLearning Technology system, which is often used to play car racing video games.

"In the last year, we've seen the Ethan we knew before the accident," said Howard Myers, the teenager's father.

Neurofeedback is a form of conditioning that rewards people for producing specific brain waves, such as those that appear when a person is relaxed or paying attention.

While this form of treatment has been around for decades, incorporating video games marks a new frontier that taps young people's fascination with animation and electronics to sweeten often frightening, lengthy and tedious medical treatments.

Video games are being used, for instance, to help sick children manage pain and anxiety during hospital stays.

A young leukemia patient inspired "Ben's Game," which let him fight the cancer cells invading his body. A private island called Brigadoon in Linden Lab's "Second Life" virtual world is open only to people with Asperger's syndrome and autism.

West Virginia's public schools are battling obesity by making "Dance Dance Revolution"--a step-to-the-beat video game--part of their curriculum, while Nintendo has made a splash with its new "Brain Age" mind-exercising game.

Planes, brains and automobiles
CyberLearning's Smart BrainGames system, which Myers still uses, targets symptoms arising from brain injuries, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities.

Priced at $584, the system is built on NASA technology that used video games and neurofeedback to train pilots to stay alert during long flights and calm during emergencies. It is compatible with Sony's PlayStation 1 and 2 consoles as well as Microsoft's Xbox, which video game-crazed kids are quite familiar with.

Users wear a helmet with built-in sensors to measure brain waves. That data is relayed to a neurofeedback system that affects the game controller.

Car racing games work best with the system, which rewards users by telling the controller to allow them to go fast and steer with control, doctors said. When patients' brain waves aren't in "the zone" the controller makes it harder to accelerate and steer.

Families generally pay $2,000 to $2,500 for a six-month supervised program with one of CyberLearning's 55 licensed health professionals trained on the Smart BrainGames system.

Despite demonstrated benefits of neurofeedback, one pediatrician said better-designed studies are needed to help parents of children with ADHD make informed decisions.

"We have some very effective treatments for kids with ADHD," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "I'd be concerned about parents pursuing expensive and not very established treatments in lieu of more proven therapies."

Traditional treatments, such as prescribing the stimulant Ritalin, behavioral therapy and education, are often covered by health insurance, while neuro-feedback usually is not.

Despite such hurdles, some medical practitioners are advocating the new approach.

Last year, Margaret MacDonald, a San Jose, California doctor, focused her practice on neurofeedback after her son's attention-deficit symptoms improved within three months of using CyberLearning's system.

She starts patients with 20- to 25-minute sessions at least two times per week and recommends that they work with a trained professional to ensure they are reinforcing the right brain wave activity to produce the desired result.

"This isn't something you can just play with...You could train the wrong thing and cause someone to become more anxious and irritable," she said.

Steven Stockdale, the licensed psychologist in Colorado Springs, Colo., who treats Ethan Myers, said he has seen some nice changes come about from the video game therapy.

"Kids can become less agitated, more calm and less angry," he said. "It's much more engaging."

Story Copyright © 2008 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

6 comments

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Anyone seen The Lawn Mower Man?
In the movie, the Lawn Mower man a firm is hired to conduct virtual experiments on animals to improve their mental capacity, a not so bring lawn mower man is transformed into a genius which eventually spirals out into a virtual god before getting his body trapped in the virtual world.

The moral of the story, his mental capacity was greatly increased by playing virtual video games.

I fully believe in this and hope it can help others.

I like to play Tetris until I beat the game before I go to bed, great way to get my mind going before you go to bed, and when your done, your mentally exhausted so sleep is pretty simple.
Posted by 1337geek (1 comment )
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Child's Play
If you think that this is all video games can do however, I urge you to check out &lt;a href="http://www.childsplaycharity.org/&gt;Child's Play Charity</a> at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.childsplaycharity.org/" target="_newWindow">http://www.childsplaycharity.org/</a> . It is a wonderful charity dedicated to helping children in hospitals by providing them video game systems, toys and other things to various Children's Hospitals across the country.
Posted by (9 comments )
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Jack Thompson
Take that, Jack. OMIGOSH, Teh Video Games are teh evil. Gamers are teh devil.LOLOL. n00b.
Posted by Skrawn (1 comment )
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People with disabilities
I have found second life to be therapeutic as it can provide vital interaction with others as well as learning skills or just as a hobby to relieve stress. I would definitely appreciate if there was away Secondlife could have a site for people who have to readjust to community because of a sudden tragedy that has changed their entire world. They can develop new interaction skills. Also realize that just having a disability (visible or invisible) does not mean you have to give up on life. Very curious as to how the group that has autism was able to get a private island. It is something that should be available to other special groups of people. I am not only physically disabled (wheelchair user) but also have a severe hearing impairment that means i use only text online. On the side I also have an anxiety disorder which is quite normal for those who have difficulty being able to work off stress. Our minds have a very hard time shutting off from the problem so we need a diversion we can utilize at any time and preferably from home as transit is not always easy to come by.
Posted by Em Warrior (1 comment )
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People with disabilities in Second Life
Em Warrior, I found your comment very interesting. I am currently doing research for a book on how Second Life can help users with disabilities foster more independence or offer them new experiences. Would you be willing to discuss with me further? Please email me at erica.garber@gmail.com or if you know of anybody that would be able to add to this project, have them get in touch with me. Thanks for your help!
Posted by Erica0420 (2 comments )
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Mother approved?
If you have a testimonial on that braingames game can you please reply or at adhdnews. Thanks.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.adhdnews.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=21581&#38;PN=1&#38;TPN=3" target="_newWindow">http://www.adhdnews.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=21581&#38;PN=1&#38;TPN=3</a>

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://adhdnews.com/forum/forum_topics.asp?FID=16" target="_newWindow">http://adhdnews.com/forum/forum_topics.asp?FID=16</a>
Posted by yo_supermom (7 comments )
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