These Video Games Not Only Boost Brain Health, They're Getting FDA Approval

Alternatively referred to as cognitive impairment, cognitive decline is characterized by a gradual decrease in brain function due to aging that impairs one's memory, concentration, and thinking abilities (via WebMD). Older adults may experience increases in forgetfulness, overwhelm, impulsivity, a lack of focus, or difficulty recognizing familiar places. While there is no cure for cognitive decline, reports Harvard Health Publishing, some scientists have turned to more unconventional methods to improve symptoms in patients, such as video games.

NPR reports that Sarah Shizuko Morimoto and her research team at the University of Utah have developed a unique video game that exercises players' memory and response time through a series of time-sensitive simulated gardening tasks. However, this is not the first time that video games have been studied for their potential cognitive health benefits. One 2020 study discovered that playing 3D video games, such as Super Mario World, boosted memory more in older adults for several weeks after playing than 2D video games such as Solitaire did (per Best Life).

Video games as treatment for mental health and child ADHD

In her mid-80s, patient Pam Stevens had become unresponsive to medication for cognitive impairment following a stroke, according to NPR. Upon visiting Sarah Shizuko Morimoto's lab, Stevens was introduced to the video game Neurogrow. Morimoto tells NPR that the game is not designed for entertainment value like other popular action-packed video games. She states, "My games are designed to do something completely different to your brain. They are not designed so that you want to keep playing or spend more money on it. The things we are asking patients to do are pretty hard and pretty boring, which is exactly the thing that's so hard for them."

Timed tasks such as color matching flowers to their corresponding gardening tool proved to be quite taxing for Pam, explains her husband Pete to NPR. However, after four months, Pam experienced improvements in her mental health such as increased socialization.

While some scientists have expressed doubt regarding the long-term benefits of video games on cognitive health, Neurogrow received over $7 million in funding for clinical trials from the federal government, NPR reports. Video game treatment for brain health seems to be a growing topic of interest among the FDA within the last few years. As evidenced in 2020, when the children's video game, EndeavorRx, made medical history by becoming the first video game to receive FDA approval for treatment of ADHD.