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Video Game and VR Therapies for ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 24, 2022

Lots of kids with ADHD love video games and other high-tech entertainment. And now gaming and virtual reality (VR) technology are actually being used as treatments for children diagnosed with ADHD.

These aren’t meant to replace medication and psychotherapy, but to be used along with those other therapies. They’re one more option to help kids improve their attention and concentration.

Video Game for ADHD

Researchers have been studying the use of video game and VR technology to help kids with ADHD for several years.

In 2020, the FDA approved the first video game for ADHD – in fact, the first game-based therapy for any condition – called EndeavorRx. Played on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device, the game tasks your child with racing a character through obstacle courses in different “worlds.” They chase fantasy creatures and create their own “universe” along the way.

To do this, they need to focus, multitask, and avoid distractions. The game’s difficulty level adjusts in real time to keep them challenged. They’ll encounter sight, sound, and movement stimuli designed to target parts of the brain that are involved in attention.

The game is approved for kids ages 8-12. They play for about 25 minutes at a time, 5 days a week.

There’s no “winning.” Once a child completes all the levels, they can keep playing to unlock new character costumes, take on new quests, and beat their own top score. Parents can follow their child’s progress with a companion app.

Some research has shown this approach to be effective. One study looked at 206 children ages 8-14 who played EndeavorRx 5 days a week for 4 weeks. They took a 4-week break, then went back to the video-game treatment regimen.

Researchers found that the kids who played EndeavorRx improved their scores on a test that measures attention. This was true whether or not they were on ADHD medication. In addition, most of the children and their parents said they felt the child’s attention had improved after the study.

Study participants haven’t reported any serious side effects. Some said they had dizziness, headache, frustration, aggression, or another emotional reaction.

Since the game is designed to be tough and a bit repetitive, your child might feel discouraged at times. But that challenge is part of what helps to train attention control.

To get EndeavorRx, you’ll need a prescription from your child’s doctor. Your child must be between the ages of 8 and 12, live in the U.S., have a diagnosis of primarily inattentive or combined-type ADHD, and already have an ADHD treatment plan.

It costs $99 for a 3-month prescription, but your health insurance may cover it.

VR Treatment for ADHD

Think of virtual reality as a video game come to life. Wearing a headset or other device, you see the virtual world of the game all around you. You can interact with it by using hand controls and body movements.

Review studies have found that virtual reality technology could be used to help detect ADHD, as well as train people with ADHD in skills like memory and concentration. Researchers said people did better on tasks that required attention when using VR.

Previously, the use of VR for ADHD was mostly limited to virtual classrooms where children could practice behavior skills in a safe setting.

But an FDA policy enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic expanded the use of VR therapy for people with psychiatric issues, including ADHD. In 2020, XRHealth introduced a VR therapy app for ADHD. Like EndeavorRx, it’s meant to be used along with standard treatments.

XR’s device uses sight, sound, and movement in a game-like setting. It’s designed to help improve attention, organization, and planning skills while reducing impulsive behavior.

It tracks your child’s eye movements to provide information to their therapist. This lets the therapist adjust the difficulty level of the tasks to keep your child motivated.

The ADHD application is available to children 10 and up through XRHealth’s virtual (telehealth) clinics. The XRHealth clinics accept patients living in Massachusetts, Florida, and Michigan. Most government and private insurance plans in these three states cover the treatment.

The technology is also being sold to clinics and hospitals elsewhere who have their own VR telehealth clinics.

You can register on XRHealth’s website for a telehealth meeting with a therapist. If they determine that the ADHD therapy is right for your child, the company will ship a VR headset to your home along with a personalized treatment plan. Your child will meet with the therapist by video chat two to three times a week to review their progress and plan the next week’s training.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “FDA Permits Marketing of First Game-Based Digital Therapeutic to Improve Attention Function in Children with ADHD,” “Enforcement Policy for Digital Health Devices For Treating Psychiatric Disorders During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Public Health Emergency.”

EndeavorRx: “The Treatment,” “FAQ.”

NPJ Digital Medicine: “Effectiveness of a digital therapeutic as adjunct to treatment with medication in pediatric ADHD.” 

Korean Journal of Pediatrics: “The opportunities of virtual reality in the rehabilitation of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: a literature review.”

BioMed Central Psychiatry: “The usefulness of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies in the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children: an overview of relevant studies.”

News release, XRHealth, Sept. 22, 2020.

Eran Orr, CEO, XRHealth.

ClinicalTrials.gov: ”Virtual Reality Attention Management (VRAM).”

Frontiers in Psychiatry: “ADHD Rehabilitation through Video Gaming: A Systematic Review Using PRISMA Guidelines of the Current Findings and the Associated Risk of Bias.”

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