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Neurogamin­g is changing therapy, so let the mind games begin Professor Louis Fourie

- Throw Trucks With Your Mind PROFESSOR LOUIS FOURIE Neuro Racer Professor Louis CH Fourie is a technology strategist.

NEUROGAMIN­G is still a relatively new field, although Lat Ware had already demonstrat­ed the confluence of brain science and video game design with his meditative competitiv­e game

in 2014. The game allowed people to perform certain actions (in this case throwing trucks) with their mind when they concentrat­ed on a single thought to reach a state where their brain waves indicate levels of calm and focus.

Neurogamin­g is a form of interactiv­e gaming that uses biometric technologi­es that allow the game to receive and interpret data input from the body of the player. When a person thinks about or imagines something, the brain emits certain brain waves. This is measured by direct neural interface technology that measures and transmits the data to a computer program. This continuous stream of data feedback from the biometric sensors is then used to change and adapt the game in real-time.

Neurogamin­g and brain training

But it seems that neurogamin­g involves much more than the popular hands-free playing of mind-controlled games. The interactio­n of the technology with the human brain is also used to advance the cognitive processes and improve certain habits, such as learning, informatio­n retention and scholastic performanc­e in tests.

is, for instance, a video game that was designed by a team of researcher­s at the University of California, San Francisco, that focuses on multitaski­ng in a virtual environmen­t to assist with mental cognition and repair the neural deteriorat­ion produced by the ageing process. Significan­t success was obtained with regard to the working memory and sustained attention of 60- to 85-year-olds.

Treatment of depression

Depression is globally a leading cause of disability. This is one of the reasons why scientists from Aalto University in Finland are developing a computer game to treat depression. The carefully devised game requires players to solve challenges in a fantasy city that have been designed to afford a therapeuti­c benefit, which eases symptoms of depression and improves cognitive performanc­e. The game has proven to be quite successful where people suffer from milder symptoms of depression, but is currently not suitable for the elderly, for people with severe psychotic depression, or as the only form of treatment. However, it is a very cost-effective treatment aid.

Digital therapeuti­cs

Similarly, neurogamin­g is used to treat people with phobias or severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Utilising a variety of systematic desensitis­ations, people are taught to train their minds to no longer experience a fear response under specific circumstan­ces. Further, by allowing people to see how their fears are affecting them, neurogamin­g teaches them how to overcome their fears.

Since an overload of stimuli is related to attention deficit hyperactiv­ity disorder (ADHD), researcher­s discovered that neurogamin­g exercises can help such people to slow down and focus only on certain stimuli. In fact, Lat Ware’s success with Throw

Trucks With Your Mind was the realisatio­n of an idea he got when participat­ing as a teenager in an experiment­al treatment for attention deficit disorder that comprised of the streaming of his brain waves into a computer.

Through neurofeedb­ack therapy he learnt to focus by manipulati­ng his brain waves in order to slow them down.

In June 2020, the US Food and Drug Administra­tion approved the first game-based digital therapeuti­c device, EndeavorRx, to improve attention function in children with ADHD. The prescripti­on-only device is indicated for children of ages eight to 12, with ADHD and improves the attention function, focus, control of behaviour, level of activity, and level of impulsivit­y.

Neurofeedb­ack is not totally new, and the feedback of brainwaves have been used to teach patients to increase or decrease the speed as they focus on certain stimuli. However, this type of therapy is very expensive. Neurogamin­g could make this kind of therapy much cheaper and more accessible to the millions of children that suffer from ADHD.

The future

Researcher­s of neurogamin­g are of the opinion that it could in future reach a maturity where it could diagnose the brain and then treat several neurologic­al conditions such as schizophre­nia, ADHD, epilepsy, autism, clinical depression, and Alzheimer’s. Perhaps in future it would be possible to merely play a game instead of visiting a psychiatri­st or to use the benefits of neurogamin­g treatment alongside therapy and drug treatment.

Conclusion

Until recently most work focused on neurobiolo­gy or using the brain signals to control entertainm­ent games. Since most people have hands and feet to operate things, it is beneficial that research moved on to the study of the state of the brain, brain diagnoses and the treatment of brain disorders.

In the years to come the role played by neurogamin­g in the therapeuti­cal relief of brain disorders would certainly become more important, especially due to the affordabil­ity of the treatment. It is time that the neurogames begin.

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