Video Game can Detect Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder characterized by a number of persistent issues, including difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Adult ADHD can cause relationship problems, poor work or school performance, low self-esteem, and other issues.

Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM, in its Spanish acronym), among other institutions, have developed a platform that allows the identification and evaluation of the degree of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents by adapting a traditional endless runner video game and using a raccoon as the protagonist.

According to the most recent evaluations, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a 7.2 percent prevalence in children and adolescents. It is clinically diagnosed, and the diagnosis is based on the professional judgment of health care providers based on the patient’s medical history, which is frequently supported by scales completed by caregivers and/or teachers. To date, no diagnostic tests for ADHD have been developed. This team of researchers proposed using a video game that children are already familiar with to identify the symptoms of ADHD and evaluate the severity of the lack of attention in each case in a paper recently published in Brain Sciences.

We hypothesize that children with ADHD inattentive subtype will make more mistakes by omission and will jump closer to the hole as a result of inattention symptoms.

Inmaculada Peuelas Calvo

The player has a running avatar in this game genre that they must use to avoid various obstacles in their path. “In our game, the avatar is a raccoon that has to jump to avoid falling into the holes it will encounter along the way,” explains David Delgado Gómez, lead author, and professor at UC3Department M’s of Statistics.

“We hypothesize that children with ADHD inattentive subtype will make more mistakes by omission and will jump closer to the hole as a result of inattention symptoms,” says Inmaculada Peuelas Calvo, another study author, and psychiatrist at the Jiménez Daz Foundation University Hospital and professor at the UCM’s Department of Personality, Evaluation, and Clinical Psychology.

According to the researchers, the main benefit of this study is that it allows symptoms of attention-deficit to be directly identified, allowing the severity of the patient’s inattention to be objectively assessed. As a result, it could be used to supplement the initial diagnosis as well as to monitor the progression of symptoms or even the efficacy of treatment.

Video games can identify attention deficit symptoms

Other significant benefits include the fact that each test takes only 7 minutes to complete and does not require any special hardware, significantly lowering the cost. In fact, traditional personal computers, tablets, or mobile devices can be used to conduct remote assessments. Our findings suggest that a shorter test may be sufficient to accurately assess the clinical symptoms of ADHD. This feature makes it particularly attractive in clinical settings where there is a lack of time,” the researchers note.

A rapid test that allows early diagnosis

The study was conducted in collaboration with a group of 32 children aged 8 to 16 who had been diagnosed with ADHD by the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit in the Psychiatry Department at the Jiménez Dáz Foundation University Hospital. The appropriate caregiver completed the inattention subscale in the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and normal behavior symptom classification scale (SWAN), which is an inventory of reports from parents and caregivers developed to evaluate ADHD symptoms, while each child was taking the test under the supervision of a trained professional.

In the game, the raccoon must jump over 180 holes divided into 18 blocks. “Each block is distinguished by the raccoon’s speed, the length of the trunk, and the width of the hole. The time between stimuli is determined by the length of the trunk and the speed of the avatar, which is approximately 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 seconds, respectively, while the width of the hole determines how difficult it is to jump over “Inmaculada Peuelas elaborates.

Currently, ADHD diagnosis is based primarily on the experience of healthcare professionals and the observation skills of the teacher or caregiver. Several studies have found that these assessments can be influenced, for example, by affective factors. As a result, “the development of diagnostic methods such as those proposed in this paper may favor early diagnosis and thus improve the prognosis of these patients,” concludes David Delgado Gómez.

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