Game based interventions could help battling depression amongst elderly
Playing World of Warcraft, virtual role-playing or simply exercising with the Wii could help reduce depression. A meta-analysis of 19 different studies of game-based interventions shows encouraging results. And besides the big amount of games for youngsters, the researchers specifically point out much can be done with with therapeutic gaming for older adults.
The interventions studied are all based on the characteristics of a typical game: challenge, motivation and rewards. These elements can be used to address individuals coping with depression, engaging them in healthcare. They could be beneficial to the brain, releasing hormones such as endorphins and striatal dopamine. Also, they can help with exposure and practicing coping techniques.
In the meta-analysis the different studies on game-based interventions and depression were divided into four groups. One form of intervention studied is psycho-education and training. This involves 3D fantasy games and role-playing to release distress in participants or teach them skills in addressing their disorder. Another category is virtual reality, which can give participants the sense of ‘being there’, thus helping with exposure in fear based depressions. This also seems to be effective in war post traumatic stress disorder and reducing depressive symptoms in hospitalized children.
Other studies that were included in the meta-analysis investigated therapeutic interventions in which older participants were encouraged to exercise with the Nintendo Wii. The fourth category was made up of studies of regular online games, like World of Warcraft. These exercise and entertainment categories could help relax and distract individuals suffering from depression.
Overall the studies showed just a medium effect size, not bigger than other psychological interventions. The virtual reality and entertainment games seemed to have the most positive outcomes on depressed participants. Interventions with involvement of a therapist showed a generally weaker effect size than therapeutic gaming without professional guidance. The researchers do note that most studies used a rather small sample of participants and almost nothing can be said about any long term effects.
Most of the included studies focussed on participants under 30 years of age. Only two studies were specifically working with participants that were over 65. That should change, say the researchers. They mention earlier research indicating that videogames for older adults have health benefits and claim that “increasing evidence shows that a high percentage of such adults actively play digital video games in daily life.” Therapeutic game developers and reserachers should thus direct their attention to this growing group of elderly.
Li J, Theng YL, & Foo S (2014). Game-based digital interventions for depression therapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 17 (8), 519-27 PMID: 24810933
Open access link here.
game, gaming, therapy, intervention, older, elderly, 65+, depression, mental, therapist, self help, virtual reality