Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder makes it harder for people to pay attention and control impulsive behavior. It is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in children, according to the CDC. The treatment options for ADHD include behavioral therapy and medication intervention, but what if kids could use video games to treat the disorder? Akili Interactive, a digital therapeutics company, is combining digital therapeutics and video games to drive a therapeutic effect in people suffering from ADHD.
The Boston-based company is making software to treat cognitive dysfunction in a number of disorders, but its flagship product is geared toward pediatric ADHD. Akili Interactive combines commercial gaming development, data science and neuroscience to create a platform for children to stay engaged with their therapy, a common issue with traditional ADHD treatment.
“It doesn’t always feel like they’re taking medication when they’re engaging with our product,” Jason Trees, director of product management and head of R&D, said during a DeviceTalks Boston keynote address. “We know that we are producing therapeutic benefit, but it feels like a video game. As a result, we’ve made an effort to make it also appear like a video game.”
Akili Interactive is a smartphone app that can be played on a tablet. Users can use their hands to tap and move the device using a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. The game has characters and missions on the screen with a storyline to help pediatric ADHD users with retention. Akili Interactive is currently working through the details of which platforms to make the technology available through.
“One of the core functions of our product is that it not only individualizes to whoever is playing it, but it can also constantly keep pushing you beyond your comfort zone essentially,” said Trees. “That’s part of what we think is the way in which our products work.”
The digital therapeutics market is expected to be worth $9.1 billion by 2027 and the video game market will be worth $100 billion by 2022. A combination of the two niche industries allows people with ADHD to challenge themselves in a flexible and adaptable way, Trees said.
Akili Interactive constantly measures and adapts to individuals to track progress and adjust the therapy as needed. Trees says the technology can be applicable in different countries and different cultures because it’s a video game.
“I think that’s one thing that you do learn from the gaming industry is that games are pretty ubiquitously popular. That’s something that we’ve also strived to maintain – that we’re not narrow in a cultural sense,” Trees said.
The company is currently running clinical trials to determine if the technology can work as a therapy for pediatric ADHD. It is also testing the technology in adjunct to stimulants. Akili Interactive plans to aim toward FDA approval and become a prescribed therapy in the future.