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Can Video Games Help Treat COVID-19 “Brain Fog”?

For many COVID-19 survivors, lingering symptoms persist long beyond recovery from the initial effects of the virus – a phenomenon now commonly referred to as COVID-19 brain fog.

While not a medical or scientific term, brain fog is a blanket term used by individuals to describe cognitive symptoms that result in feeling sluggish, fuzzy, and tired. Given the many negative effects of COVID-19 on the brain and other organ systems, it’s unsurprising that survivors often experience lingering symptoms such as fatigue, body aches, inability to exercise, headaches, and difficulty sleeping – all which add up to brain fog. For a more in-depth look at how these symptoms affect long-haul COVID-19 survivors, check out this podcast from Mayo Clinic:

In a Harvard Health Blog post, Andrew E. Budson, MD recommends that all individuals suffering from COVID-19 brain fog visit their doctor to discuss their symptoms as soon as possible. Beyond that, other suggestions to help alleviate symptoms include regularly exercising, eating a healthy diet, and ensuring proper sleep habits.

But some healthcare professionals like Faith Gunning-Dixon, a neuropsychologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, are researching specialized treatments for long-haul COVID-19 survivors – specifically, digital therapeutics like Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRX video game.

We’ve previously discussed EndeavorRX in detail in our Games as Digital Medicine blog – but for a quick recap, the product is the first video game to receive FDA approval to be legally marketed and prescribed as a medicine. Developed by Akili Interactive and backed by more than 7 years of clinical trials, EndeavorRX is a prescription treatment for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – however, Dr. Gunning-Dixon hypothesizes that the game may also be capable of helping improve cognitive functioning among those suffering from COVID-19 brain fog. 

To put her theory to the test, she’s launching a new study which aims to measure the effects of EndeavorRX gameplay in improving cognitive skills and daily functioning outcomes among individuals recovering from COVID-19.

In an interview with The Verge, Dr. Gunning-Dixon discusses how her previous research using the game among older adults with cognitive issues has shown promising results in terms of improving connectivity within brain networks that support attention and executive skills. If the game proves to be effective for COVID-19 survivors, Dr. Gunning-Dixon hopes that the scalable nature of the digital intervention could help make treatment more widely available for those suffering from the long-term cognitive effects of the virus.

For more insights on the upcoming study from Dr. Gunning-Dixon, be sure to check out her full interview with The Verge. And for a closer look at the EndeavorRX treatment program itself, visit Akili Interactive’s official website!

For more on intersection of video games and digital therapeutics, check out these related posts:
Games as Digital Medicine
Video Games and Mental Health
How Researchers Can Work With An Educational Video Game Studio

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