Who said games can’t be therapeutic?
According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology, a gamified digital therapeutic (DTx) app called Personal Zen proved effective at lowering anxiety in both adults and teenagers living with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Researchers chose to focus on MS because there is an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders in people with this condition, especially in patients experiencing pediatric-onset MS who are learning to cope with this lifelong diagnosis. Interviews conducted with study participants who used the app daily for about a month showed that nearly two-thirds found some benefit to using the app, such as helping participants change their moods for the better.
PersonalZen uses a different approach from other DTx's, such as Ensemble developed by Happify Health. Instead of using traditional cognitive-based strategies to design their tool, Personal Zen is based on attention bias modification (ABM). According to their website, Wise Therapeutics suggests that ABM treatment “is based on the premise that a core driver of stress and anxiety is an unconscious attentional bias toward negative or threatening information.” Conversely, traditional cognitive-based strategies focus more on conscious biases.
Personal Zen is inspired by the dot-probe task, a cognitive task developed by psychologists to measure attentional bias. In the past, it has been used by presenting threatening and non-threatening information simultaneously to measure what people have an attentional bias for. Using a “game-like” structure inspired by the dot-probe task, Personal Zen helps retrain the brain to focus more on positive things, rather than the negative information we are inclined to have a bias towards.
While new, Personal Zen is not the first game-based DTx. Last year, the FDA approved EndeavorRx, the first game-based digital therapeutic for kids with ADHD. Regardless, the results published about Personal Zen add to the growing evidence that digital technology can be leveraged effectively for therapeutic benefit, particularly for mental health. Wise Therapeutics noted that the next step is a randomized controlled study to confirm validity of their results.