Dealing with Depression? Science Says This Video Game Could Treat It

Could a smartphone app be the answer to treating depression in older adults? New science says yes, you can game your brain.


Apparently, the latest treatment in depression is just a few clicks away in your smartphone app store. In a new study by the University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine, researchers discovered that people with late-life depression showed improvement in their symptoms with the use of Project: EVO, a digital platform designed to enhance cognitive processes. “Moderately depressed people do better with apps like Project: EVO because they address or treat correlates of depression,” senior author Patricia Areán, a UW Medicine researcher in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, told

Areán’s team conducted two studies, beginning with a group of older adults (ages 60+) who suffered from late-life depression. The adults were randomized into groups that received either the mobile, tablet-based treatment Project: EVO or an in-person therapy treatment known as problem-solving therapy. Those who played the video game saw improvements in mood and brain function as well as an increase in cognitive benefits. The app also helped the depressed participants focus better. The study participants, many of whom had never used a tablet or played a video game, were asked to play Project: EVO five times a week, for 20 minutes or more at a go. Players then attended in-person weekly meetings with a clinician where their moods were monitored.

A second study boosted the results. In this second round, 600 randomized people diagnosed with mild or moderate depression were separated into groups and asked to try one of three depression apps—Project: EVO, an app that uses problem-solving therapy, or a placebo control (an app called Health Tips, which offers healthy suggestions). People with mild depression showed greater improvement in symptoms after using Project: EVO and the problem-solving app, over the placebo.

“These results provide great potential for helping people who don’t have the resources to access effective problem solving therapy,” Dr. Areán said. “The apps should be used under clinical supervision because without a human interface, people were not as motivated to use it.”

This isn’t the first time that video games have been thought to be an effective treatment for depression. Previous studies, including one conducted by researchers at Stanford University, demonstrated that the act of playing video games stimulates areas of the brain focused on goal-setting and motivation. The stimulation spills over into daily life, encouraging those with depression to feel more motivated and resilient. Along with treating depression, video games provide even more surprising health benefits.

Video games of all types are proven to be effective learning experiences and can motivate players. As the level in any video game increases, players are required to learn and improve their skills, stimulating areas of the brain typically left under-stimulated and even shrinking in those with depression. If you think you might be at risk, here are possible warning signs of depression you may want to discuss with your doctor.

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