Video games train your brain to fight depression

Hospitals, especially extended stays in them, can make you feel isolated and alone. Pairing that with the difficulty of a bad diagnosis or a tough week of treatment makes it hard to think happy thoughts. But video games can help put a smile back on a child’s face.

Multiple studies have looked inside the brains of gamers, and they’ve found that during gameplay two regions of the brain are constantly hyperstimulated: the reward pathways and the hippocampus. The reward pathways are associated with motivation and goal-orientation, and the hippocampus is associated with learning and memory. Even when we’re not playing an educational game, we’re learning how to play the game and progress from level to level, so our knowledge-hungry brains are happy.

Studies have also looked at the brains of people suffering from depression, and they’ve found two regions of the brain that are constantly understimulated: you guessed it, the reward pathways and the hippocampus.

So if patients are struggling with depression (which can easily happen in long hospital stays or ICU stays), video games can target the reward pathways and hippocampus to help them in the right direction.

Video games can ease chronic pain.

Many times, kids who are in the hospital for long stays experience pain caused from their condition or their treatment. Researchers at the National Children’s Medical Center have found that video games can provide a distraction that aids in pain relief.

Research shows that as children get more involved in games, they become more likely to push muscles they previously would not move due to pain. By increasing their range of motion, they stretch areas that need stretching. If you add in video game extensions like Kinect, the possibilities increase.

Video games reduce anxiety.

And who has more anxiety than a child in a hospital, constantly surrounded by doctors, nurses, and needles?

A study done by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey found playing hand-held video games as effective as taking an anti-anxiety pill before surgery. The study tested three groups of children ages four to 12: one group got nothing to ease the anxiety, one group got an oral dose of anti-anxiety medicine, and one group got a Gameboy. The medicine and the Gameboy were delivered 30 minutes before surgery. The first group saw an increase of 17.5 on the anxiety scale, the second group saw an increase of 7.5, and the third group saw a zero percent increase. The children who played with a Gameboy were totally relaxed.

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