In this month's Neurotech Insights we focused on the Attention markets. The following is a product review I did on a computer based "neurofeedback" software solution targeted at kids who are "attention challenged."
As the market for ADHD medication continues to grow, non-drug alternatives to treat less severe cases are emerging in the form of neurofeedback systems and less sophisticated computer games. Given the growing interest in non-drug treatment options for ADHD, we contacted the manufacturer of Play Attention, Unique Logic and Technology to take a test drive.
Play Attention is a computer game that uses brain waves, to move objects on a computer screen. Repetitive use of the training system is meant to improve attention, focus, and memory skills for children and others with ADHD, though people who are not “attention challenged” (as the company likes to put it), will also see improvement in their game performance.
Using technology originally developed to help pilots stay alert, the system utilizes a bike helmet lined with sensors connected to a computer. There are 5 games designed to improve different aspects of attention including attention stamina, visual tracking and discrimination of important vs. unimportant stimuli, and short term memory processing.
In the first game, the player must concentrate and stop fidgeting to make an action occur on the screen. If they are concentrating on the object (or a homework assignment), an object, like a UFO or bird, will move in a positive direction and collect power pellets, if they are not concentrating hard enough then the object will move in the opposite direction. For example, the bird will fly higher or descend depending on the level of player concentration.
As the student watches the screen, she learns to regulate her concentration in response to visual feedback from the computer. Results are measured as % of time on task and sessions last about ½ hour twice a week. The company spokesperson said that commonly a student will go from 50% of time on task for 5 minutes to around 80% time on task for after 12 hours of use. After 40-60 hours usually a student can stop using the system.
While our experience proved that a player would certainly get better at the game, it is difficult to tell in our short testing period whether this would translate into real life improvements. A noninvasive, no side effect treatment seems like a good first line option even if the efficacy or patient response rate is less than ideal. However, training games and feedback generally take a back seat to pharmaceuticals and will continue to do so, most likely because of the time to therapeutic impact. While medication, like Ritalin (methylphenidate) can improve symptoms in minutes, gaming can take months to years to show significant improvements, according to Dr. Leann Lesperance and Henry Bernstein of the Harvard Medical School.
According to their analysis, the “Play Attention system may improve symptoms in some children, but it may not help everyone. Although medications can help manage ADHD, there is no cure. You can expect continued research into the causes and treatments of ADHD. While the technology behind this system has been studied in pilots, it apparently has not been extensively studied in children with ADHD. Although preliminary findings seem encouraging, expect that researchers will continue to study its effectiveness.”
Other companies are also working to develop and sell neuroscience based computer games and neurofeedback systems. CyberLearning and Imagine Neuro Solutions sell competitive systems for improving attention, while Posit, Scientific Learning (SCIL), and Wild Devine, are developing training systems for “mental sharpness”, dyslexia, and emotional well being respectively. While the idea of a non FDA regulated, no side effect treatment is intriguing, most of these companies are still proving out their business models.
Play Attention has been on the market since 1996 and is currently being used in over 450 schools. The product has good features for coaching, performance tracking, and includes a module called “academic bridge” designed to translate the game performance to other tasks like homework.. Play attention is priced at $395. For more information, visit www.playattention.com.