Gardening Game Neurogrow Heals Depression

Neurogrow has a very ambitious goal. The purpose of this gardening game which is currently under development by Therapeutic Games and Apps at the University of Utah is all about healing depression in older adults. Not treating. Healing.

“I would say the majority of apps for depression that are out there are not targeting the neurobiology of the illness,” Associate Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences Sarah Shizuko Morimoto told the Salt Lake Tribune. “They’re doing psychotherapy over the web or giving you cognitive or behavioral tools to use during your day.”

Morimoto researches how video games can be used to repair circuits in the frontal lobe of the brain. These can break down as people get older, making it much harder for them to cope with depression. Morimoto believes that repairing these brain circuits might just be the key to solving the problem. This would be where Neurogrow comes in. “We’re kind of artificially coming in from the outside and making you work out these parts of the brain,” she said.

Neurogrow is basically about tending to a garden, but the real purpose is to repair those circuits in the frontal lobe of the brain. “We’re doing the work of medicine here,” Director of Digital Medicine at the Center for Medical Innovation Roger Altizer said. “And it just happens to be with software instead of with pills.”

“I hate it when people say ‘oh, I’m rejuvenating your brain’ or ‘we’re going to make you young again.’ That isn’t what we’re doing at all,” Morimoto said. “We’re strengthening your ability to utilize these parts of your brain that have become less useful as you age.”

Therapeutic Games and Apps recently received a $7.5 million grant from the National Mental Health Institute to carry out clinical trials aimed at determining whether or not the game will be effective as a medical treatment. These are already well underway.

Morimoto intends to use Neurogrow as a medical treatment in the future, but she needs more people to participate in her clinical trials at tht moment. She encourages any older adults who suffer from depression to call 801-746-9588 in order to be considered. “We really hope that we get as many people as possible to give this a shot,” Morimoto said. “And you know, they really don’t have anything to lose. There’s really no side effects other than sometimes getting a little bit frustrated.”

Neurogrow holds a lot of potential when it comes to the use of games for more than just entertainment purposes. Altizer pointed out that digital medicine “is going to be the future.”

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