OSU Researchers Say App Helped Teens Recover From Concussions

Aug 18, 2017

Doctors often advise concussion patients to avoid screen time on computers, televisions, tablets and phones.

But for a recent Ohio State University study, teenagers used a smartphone app as part of the recovery process. As Mike Foley reports, researchers are encouraged by the results.

“Every single person’s symptoms improved, and optimism improved from the time that they started playing the game to the time they finished with us.”

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center physical rehabilitation specialist Lise Worthen-Chaudhari led the research. The 19 teenagers in the study received traditional treatment for concussion symptoms that persisted beyond 3 weeks, and the experimental group also used the SuperBetter app as a gamified symptoms journal. In the app, concussion symptoms are represented as bad guys while medical recommendations are power-ups. Participants could also invite friends to join their network in the app and provide responses to activity. Worthen-Chaundhari says using the app for just a little bit each day improved concussion symptoms more than with standard medical treatment alone.

“Instead of I’m so frustrated and I can’t get out of this headache, it rewrites it to say did you battle the headache bad guy today? And if so, how did you do? Just that flipping to show this is an obstacle, and it’s your journey to overcome that obstacle seems to be enough.”

Concussion symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, and sensitivity to light and noise. But they also bring feelings of isolation and depression. Researchers say the app’s incorporation of social game mechanics and a heroic narrative alleviate those feelings and complement standard medical care. The American Academy of Neurology recommends limiting cognitive and physical activity until the concussed individual is symptom-free without medication. Researchers say more studies are needed to investigate the role interactive media may play in treating concussions.