Geriatric researchers have identified an unlikely way to treat depression in seniors who aren’t help by drugs or other treatments: Computer games.
In a study of 11 older patients, researchers found playing certain computer games was just as effective at reducing symptoms of depression as the “gold standard” antidepressant drug Lexapro (escitalopram), LiveScience
What’s more, those patients playing the computer games achieved results in just four weeks, compared to the 12 weeks it often takes with Lexapro. The games also led to improvements in critical thinking skills of the senior gamers.
The findings suggest computerized therapy could also help treat people with other brain disorders, scientists added.
“Depression is a serious and at times life-threatening illness,” said lead researcher Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, a neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medical College
in New York. “This is a biological illness of the brain, no different from any other illness, and it necessitates treatment.”
Antidepressant drugs often have side effects that may make people wary of taking them, but not treating the illness can have even more serious consequences, Morimoto said.
“Only roughly one-third of depressed elderly patients get fully well with antidepressant drugs,” Morimoto said.
For the new study, the scientists tested the games on participants ages 60 to 89 who had major depression and failed to show improvement with antidepressant drugs. The participants engaged in the computer activities for 30 hours over the course of four weeks.
“Our findings suggest that the health and functioning of brain circuits responsible for executive functions are important for recovery from depression,” Morimoto said.
The study was published online in the journal Nature Communications.
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