Apps, News

Frontiers study demonstrates app’s use of gamification to alleviate depressive symptoms

A new study has been published in Frontiers entitled ‘Gamification improves antidepressant effects of cognitive control training – A pilot trial’.

Authors Simone Weller, Philipp A. Schroeder and Christian Plewnia note that whilst treatment approaches for major depressive order (MDD) encompass psychotherapy, medication and brain stimulation, insignificant symptom relief remains “significant therapeutic challenge”. The study suggests that the available standard treatment includes issues such as not considering pathophysiological variability, not being targeted enough, high treatment costs, and more. The authors state that “an expansion of therapeutic options would therefore be highly desirable.”

Computerised cognitive trainings exist to improve control over negatively biased information processing, but the researchers note that disease-related impacts on motivation and endurance along with insufficient accessibility “hinder use of this promising therapeutic opportunity.” Therefore, they developed an app called de:)press to utilise cognitive control training with gamification and information elements.

The researchers compared use of de:)press with use of a non-gamified version, over six weeks. 32 depressed participants took part in the trial; each participant was instructed to train three times per week for two weeks, and at their own discretion for the next four weeks. Severity of depression was assessed during training and at two follow-up sessions. Change in the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) was identified as the primary endpoint to compare results, four weeks after the end of training.

The study found that depression severity decreased in both groups. At the primary endpoint, MADRS scores were “significantly lower” in the de:)press group, compared to the control group. Participants using de:)press maintained the recommended training frequency without further prompting. The authors state that “both depression severity and usage frequency were more stable in the enriched compared to the control version… These findings indicate that de:)press has the potential for an adjunctive treatment of depression”.

At the three month follow-up, a “substantial reduction” of depressive symptoms was visible in both groups.

The authors conclude: “This pilot demonstrates that gamification and information elements can substantially increase cognitive control training efficacy in alleviating depressive symptoms. Moreover, it provides first evidence for the feasibility and efficacy of de:)press as an add-on intervention to treat depression.”