Playing certain types of computer games can be an effective alternative for treating elderly people diagnosed with depression whose symptoms exhibit resistance to conventional treatments, a new study showed.
The study, titled “Neuroplasticity-based computerized cognitive remediation for treatment-resistant geriatric depression” and published in the journal Nature Communications, points out that executive dysfunction — a lack of efficacy of the executive functions — in geriatric depression is both common and often persistent despite remission of symptoms, with poor clinical outcomes.
Trying to find an alternative to conventional treatments, a group of researchers led by Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, a research neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, developed what they called a neuroplasticity-based computerized cognitive remediation-geriatric depression treatment in order to target executive dysfunction in geriatric depression. They assume that remending these deficits may modulate the underlying brain network abornmalities shared by executive dysfunction and depression.
Researchers compared their novel treatment to a “gold-standard” one, consisting of 20mg per 12 weeks of escitalopram. Eleven elderly individuals with major depression who showed resistance to treatments were studied.
The computer game consisted of balls moving on a video screen, and patients had to press a button when the balls changed color. In another games, patients had to rearrange multiple word lists into categories. Both games became more difficult as patients played.
Results showed that the computer game treatment was as effective at reducing depressive symptoms as the traditional treatment, but with one huge advantage: it produced positive outcomes in 4 weeks, instead of the 12 weeks needed for the conventional treatment to show results. Furthermore, the team notes that the computer games improved measures of executive function more than the escitalopram.