Therapeutic video games empower patients

Video games can have a therapeutic and empowering impact on patients with conditions, such as asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes and Parkinson's disease, according to a perspective published this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine. What's more, the researchers from the University of Utah say interactive games also can help providers in disease management and prevention.

The researchers, who talk about their own patient empowerment exercise game and several others, call the tools "nonpharmacological interventions" that can "enhance … resilience toward various chronic disorders." Carol Bruggers, the paper's lead author and a physician at Salt Lake City-based Primary Children's Medical Center, said that such games "show promise" for behavioral changes in self-management habits.

"We envision interactive exergames designed to enhance patient empowerment, compliance and clinical outcomes for specific disease categories," Bruggers said in a University of Utah announcement.

Greg Bulaj, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry and one of the paper's coauthors, said the research "points toward video games becoming a part of personalized medicine," but he acknowledged that more research still needs to be done.

"Research shows that playing video games increases levels of dopamine in the brain, but whether interactive technologies can mimic actions of pharmacological drugs remains unknown," he said.

Several researchers already have examined the legitimacy of video games in the world of healthcare. Earlier this year, University of Pittsburgh researchers in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine determined that video games could substantially improve outcomes in physical and psychological therapy, as well as pain management.

And a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April 2011 concluded that video games helped to improve diet and exercise compliance, as well as patient knowledge of their conditions and medication adherence.

To learn more:
- here's the paper's abstract
- read the University of Utah announcement