Video games often get a bad rap, from making teens lash out to infringing on productivity. But one doctor believes this technology can be used to improve a person’s brain function—and from there, possibly help to treat brain disorders like Alzheimer's and ADHD.
During Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, Dr. Adam Gazzaley debuted a new version of "NeuroRacer"—a video game where the player swerves around cars while simultaneously picking out road signs. The original game, which sought to relieve cognitive deficits, not only improved multi-tasking skills in older adults, but also enhanced both short-term memory and long-term focus, neuroscientists found.
But nearly a decade after NeuroRacer debuted, Gazzaley is piloting a new version—one he described as "way better." The new game still uses the same types of multi-tasking challenges as its predecessor, Gazzaley explained, while CNN's Sanjay Gupta demoed the game on stage.
Gazzaley hopes that this version will eventually be used as a therapeutic treatment for children with Attention Hyper Deficit Disorder (ADHD), people with depression, and those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What's more, according to Gazzaley, the game's "sensitivities" can be used "to pick up early indicators of cognitive decline," like Alzheimer's disease.
"[We] have goal of taking this all the way into the world of [tech] medicine—we can run this game through the same type of clinical trial that we would do for a drug or device. We actually launched, with this particular game, a full FDA approval trial for this to be a therapeutic treatment for children with ADHD," he said.
In the future, Gazzaley wants the game to be used like prescription: Instead of a drug, a patient would be prescribed a certain period of "iPad play" which a doctor would then monitor remotely.
However, there's little evidence that "brain training" has serious benefits—researchers don't have much data to prove that it truly improves everyday cognitive performance. Despite this, the "digital-brain-health" market is rapidly growing. According to a 2015 report, the total market rose from $210 million in 2005 to $1.3 billion in 2013. And by 2020, cognitive/brain assessment and training software sales could reach almost $3.4 billion, according to the report.