National Institute on Aging

Michigan State Researchers Using Game Therapy to Rehabilitate African Youth

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 575,000 cases of cerebral malaria occur each year, with most of them occurring in children in sub-Saharan Africa. Survivors of this type of malaria often suffer from brain injury, including neurological and cognitive deficits, behavioral issues and epilepsy, which can lead to long-term neurocognitive impairments.

Michigan State University researchers are using game therapy to rehabilitate children who suffer from cognitive impairment after surviving these life-threatening diseases. “The Brain Powered Games are a series of games that [children] can play that exercise different cognitive functions, like memory or attention or fine motor skills,” said Brian Winn, professor and director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab, or GEL, in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University.

The growing collection of digital games serve as a tool for Computerized Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy, or CCRT. They are designed for children in Uganda, Malawi and other countries in Africa and are culturally sensitive.

Michigan State researchers are working with a team of interventionists in Africa who help children learn how to play the games and assist with assessment. The game software — which is available on iPads as well as PC and Mac computers — has built-in technology for tracking children’s growth over time, making the project the first to provide a quality assessment of cognitive development in affected African youth.

A recently completed clinical trial found that African Brain Powered Ganes were effective in improving attention and working memory in rural Ugandan children living with HIV. Dr. Winn also notes there are side benefits, such as introducing children to technology and exposing children to interactive software. The project helped to build skills the children could use in other aspects of their life.


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