Can video games help treat ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that can affect anyone, although it is most commonly associated with children. It has many symptoms, including difficulty focusing and being easily distracted.
Research has found a possible link between ADHD and the concerning use of video games. A 2021 study notes that kids with ADHD showed more video games dependence and suggested a correlation between gaming and worsening ADHD symptoms.
But a specific subset of video games may actually have a different effect on people with ADHD. Serious video games designed to treat ADHD can be part of an overall treatment strategy. In the United States, there are some video game interventions now available by prescription.
Research suggests that educational games can help people stick with cognitive exercises that lead to symptom reduction and may have other benefits.
Video games for ADHD
Video games specifically designed to treat ADHD may help treat the condition.
Although these programs already existed, delivering them as video games is a newer idea. Gamification (making a task into a game) may increase a person’s focus and motivation to complete cognitive exercises.
Reasearchers studied video games for their other potential improvements in areas such as:
- attention and visuospatial abilities
- effort and motivation
- task switching
- processing speed
- time perception
- emotional and social skills
A 2022 review notes that serious video games can help improve ADHD symptoms and help people follow treatment plans.
Serious video games are those made for educational or health purposes. These games can help people with ADHD, despite the fact that playing video games, in general, may be an issue of concern for them.
Internet gaming disorder, a behavioral dependence associated with ADHD, involves non-serious commercial video games.
In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved one prescription-only game for ADHD, called EndeavorRx. This game is designed to improve attention in children ages 8–12 with ADHD.
Other games for ADHD include:
- Braingame Brian
- Plan-it Commander
- Adventurous Dreaming Highflying Dragon
- Akili Interactive
Prescription video games for ADHD such as EndeavorRx should be part of an overall ADHD treatment program, which may also include medication and other interventions.
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Other ADHD treatments
For children with ADHD, treatment includes behavioral therapy. If the child is under the age of 6, this will focus more on the parents. Behavioral therapy empowers them to support their child by reinforcing positive behaviors and discouraging negative ones.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), training parents in behavior management works as well as medication in younger children. Parent behavior training comes in many forms, and several programs are available for families to follow in consultation with a healthcare professional.
These programs encourage parents to praise their children when they do well and create opportunities for positive experiences. This can include finding areas where they succeed and creating space for those activities, such as in school, sports, or music.
For older children, behavior management comes with training in organizational skills.
Adults with ADHD can also benefit from these same behavioral management techniques. Also, they may seek the help of a life coach. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help adults manage ADHD through the implementation of practical tips and techniques.
Medication is often an important part of an ADHD treatment plan. These drugs do not cure ADHD, but they can help with symptom management.
The main categories of ADHD medications are stimulants and nonstimulants. In some cases, healthcare professionals may recommend other medications, such as antidepressants.
The treatment recommendations for ADHD call for the use of medication only together with parent management or behavioral training in children and adolescents.
The only medication recommended for children ages 4–6 is methylphenidate and only if behavioral interventions don’t work. Adolescents ages 6–18 may take FDA-approved medication along with other strategies.
Internet gaming disorder is associated with ADHD. But serious video games made for health or educational purposes can improve ADHD symptoms and help people stick with treatment.
Some games such as EndeavorRx are available by prescription only for children ages 8–12 with ADHD to improve attention.
Behavior management and medication are other therapeutic techniques for adults and children with ADHD.
- 12 behavioral programs for managing ADHD. (2017). https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/12-behavioral-programs-for-managing-adhd/
- ADHD treatment recommendations. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/guidelines.html
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (n.d.). https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/ADHD/Treatment
- Food and Drug Administration. (2020). FDA permits marketing of first game-based digital therapeutic to improve attention function in children with ADHD [Press release]. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-permits-marketing-first-game-based-digital-therapeutic-improve-attention-function-children-adhd
- Masi L, et al. (2021). Video games in ADHD and non-ADHD children: Modalities of use and association with ADHD symptoms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7994285/
- Medication management. (n.d.). https://chadd.org/for-adults/medication-management/
- Rodrigo-Yanguas M, et al. (2022). Serious video games: Angels or demons in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? A quasi-systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9091561/
- Sujar A, et al. (2022). Developing serious video games to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Tutorial guide. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9379781/
- Tiitto MV, et al. (2022). Therapeutic video games for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9426294/
- Treatment of ADHD. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html