Ctrl + Alt + Delete depression? Perhaps, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications that found computer games improved severe depression in elderly patients as effectively as an antidepressant, like Lexapro.
For the study, researchers designed two computer games: one where patients had to press a button each time a ball changed color, another where patients had to categorize lists. The first game tested for attention and accuracy, while the second tested for speed and accuracy. The better a patient played, the harder the game got.
And after four, 30-hour weeks of gaming, a patient’s depression improved as much, and faster, than if they were taking traditional drugs. (Lexapro's website cites the drug could take up to eight weeks to work.) Though the patients in this particular study had been unaffected by prescribed drugs, thus the computer therapy.
"Our findings suggest that the health and functioning of brain circuits responsible for executive functions are important for recovery from depression," lead study author Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, a research neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told LiveScience. Executive function refers to the skills a person needs to really change their behavior, like planning and organizing.
Morimoto’s research isn’t the first to recommend computer therapy as an alternative treatment. A study published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience found elderly patients improved cognitive function when they played computer games designed to improve their memory and attention. When researchers followed up with their patients almost two years later, patients had sustained their improvements.
Moreover, a study from the University of California-San Francisco found physical-therapy based games (think games you would play on a Wii or Kinect) improved gait and balance in patients with Parkinson’s disease. And not that anyone needs a reason to jam to songs, like "Sweet Child O' Mine," but a study published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation found Guitar Hero can help stroke patients recover from finger paralysis.
While a lot of research supports the idea of computer therapy for a variety of disorder, it’s important to know that depression treatments, alternative or not, don't work universally. What works for one patient may not necessarily work for another. So it’s important to first consult with a doctor, a therapist, or both before deciding on a treament.
Don't see yourself as a gamer? These drug-free depression treatments are worth your consideration.