Virtual reality could help detect ADHD in children

Virtual reality could help detect ADHD in children

A team of researchers used virtual reality (VR) games, eye tracking and machine learning to demonstrate how differences in eye movements can be used to detect ADHD. The new approach could be used for the treatment of ADHD and to assess other conditions like autism.

The team consisted of researchers from Aalto University, University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University. They developed a VR game called EPELI that can be used to assess ADHD symptoms in children by simulating everyday life situations.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

EPELI Virtual Reality

The new approach tracked children’s eye movements in a VR game, and machine learning helped spot differences in people with ADHD. The study included 37 children diagnosed with ADHD and 36 children who constituted the control group. They played EPELI and a second game called Shoot the Target, where the player must locate objects in the environment before “shooting” them by looking at them.

Lisa Merzon is a PhD student at Aalto University.

“We tracked children’s natural eye movements as they performed different tasks in a virtual reality game, and it turned out to be an effective way to detect ADHD symptoms,” Merzon said. “The ADHD children’s gaze stopped longer on different objects in the environment, and their gaze jumped faster and more often from one place to another. This could indicate a delay in the development of the visual system and poorer information processing than other children.

Juha Salmitaival is project manager and academic researcher at Aalto.

“It’s not just new technology to objectively assess ADHD symptoms. Children also find the game more interesting than standard neuropsychological tests,” he says.

Salmitaival, Professor Matti Laine of Åbo Akademi University and Erik Seesjärvi, PhD researcher at the University of Helsinki and clinical neuropsychologist at Helsinki University Hospital (HUH) worked together to create EPELI. The game is available to neuropsychologists working in pediatric neurology and pediatric psychiatry at HUH.

“Those who are interested can use EPELI as an aid in their clinical work,” says Seesjärvi. “The experience has been very positive. All neuropsychologists who responded to a feedback survey after the first pilot said they had benefited from using virtual reality methods as a complementary tool in their work.

Topi Siro, an Aalto alum who works at Peili Vision Oy, led the game’s development for EPELI.

“The game features a list of tasks that simulate everyday life, like brushing your teeth and eating a banana,” Siro said. “The player must remember tasks despite distractions in the environment, such as a TV on. The game measures everything: how many times the child clicks on controls and how efficiently they perform tasks. effectiveness correlates with daily functioning, whereas children with ADHD often struggle.”

Therapeutic VR game applications

The team believes there is a wide range of therapeutic applications for VR games.

“We want to develop a gamification-based digital therapy that can help kids with ADHD get excited about doing things they wouldn’t otherwise,” Salmitaival says. “There is already an approved game for ADHD rehabilitation in the United States. The team is exploring rehabilitation possibilities in a project with researchers from the University of Oulu.

Linda Henriksson is a senior lecturer at Aalto University. Also involved in the study, she has high hopes for VR games and similar apps.

“I see virtual reality as an interesting tool because it can be used to precisely control what is happening in the stimuli world while collecting information about behavior in a natural situation,” she says.

EPELI could also be used to measure problems with activity planning and flexibility in people with autism. By modifying the system, it could be used to assess language problems, brain trauma, ADHD in adults, and more.

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