mHealth Games Are Helping Post-ICU Patients Recover Cognitive Skills

July 11, 2018 - 4 minutes read

Some of the coolest mHealth developments aren’t coming out of San Francisco or New York; for example, one’s being produced in Nashville, Tennessee. Researchers at Vanderbilt University built a mobile health platform for patients being released from the intensive care unit (ICU).

This platform helps patients “exercise” their mind within the comfort and privacy of their own home; it aims to improve recovery and reduce further cognitive problems. And it seems to be hitting the mark — early results indicate that patients who used the platform for 42 minutes daily for 12 weeks showed signs of “significant improvement”.

Flexing Those Mental Muscles

Patients who visited the platform for the aforementioned amount of time improved in four cognitive areas: attention, memory, executive function, and processing speed. This is a massive help for patients being discharged from the ICU; almost 35% of discharged patients say they have new or accelerated cognitive impairment, and it can lead to unemployment for 50% of this group.

Between paying the hospital bill and potential unemployment, this results in more money and time wasted for patients as they attempt to recover with the help of a specialist. One aspect of the software is that patients can play the games on the platform for as long as they want and as many times as they want throughout the day. Users can even personalize the game to their cognitive functions and prior game results.

An App a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Doctors also benefit: they can track patient progress without needing them to come into the clinic. The doctor can even update home management plans for the patients and send instant messages as well. For this platform, researchers honed in on one specific population that gets discharged from the ICU: elderly patients who spend a few days in the ICU and leave with post-intensive care syndrome (PICS).

The researchers followed 33 people aged 52 to 70 that had spent one to three weeks in the hospital, with three to 16 days spent in the ICU. Patients were required to spend 42 minutes on the platform for at least five days per week for 12 weeks. The software gives patients 18 games; these are adjusted daily to create a unique series of seven exercises that run for six minutes each.

Promising Results

Lead researcher Jo Ellen Wilson says these games help patients with brain injuries and stroke side effects, but until now, were untested on PICS and several other diseases and dysfunctions.

Wilson says patients showed “significant improvement… positively correlated with the amount of levels played.” The research “is the first to our knowledge to evaluate feasibility of a computer gaming approach of cognitive rehabilitation in survivors of non-neuro/non-trauma critical illness. Such an approach is appealing as it is more scalable than traditional cognitive rehabilitation interventions that require intensive face-to-face interaction between patients and clinical professionals.”

This type of ongoing recovery treatment could save millions of dollars and time for both patients and doctors. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it’s done in a fun way through games. We look forward to hearing more about these unique mHealth applications as more patients participate in the study.

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