An App a Day

September 14, 2017

It’s common knowledge that athletes are told to avoid screens when they suffer a concussion. But researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are turning this advice on its head. They recently tested a smartphone gaming app that may help with concussion recovery.

“The key to the app is that it encourages patients to become active participants in their recovery and gives them specific tasks to accomplish in order to better manage their symptoms,” Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, MFA, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Wexner Medical Center, said in a media release

When they are using the gaming app, called SuperBetter, patients get to “battle” symptoms. This can help in keeping track of symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness. Prior to launching the study, the researchers worked with a physician to make sure that it was safe for the participants to use their phones for 10 minutes per day.

“Every single teenager who used the app in our study showed improvements from the time they started playing the game to the time they finished with us,” said Worthen-Chaudhari. “What’s more, the app not only helped them feel emotionally more optimistic about recovering from their concussions, but it also improved physical symptoms like headaches and blurred vision that can severely impact their quality of life.”

All of the 19 study participants who used the app reported an improvement in symptoms. Only half of the participants without the app reported an improvement in symptoms, with the others saying symptoms got worse.

Another reason why the app may help is that it casts concussion recovery in a new light. The app users are shown as a hero battling symptoms through the journey and given quests to build power along the way, with tasks like going for a walk.

“(The app) helped me understand (my symptoms) more so that I wasn’t getting as frustrated with myself,” Rachel Butler, senior at Lakota East High School in Liberty Township, Ohio and participant in the study, told The Journal-News (Middletown, Ohio). “Before I didn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better, but using the app helped me take control.”

Along with understanding symptoms, using the app helped participants gain optimism.

“I was really surprised with the results,” Worthen-Chaudhari told The Journal-News. “Simply being able to use phones really changed optimism. The group that didn’t use the app was flat in optimism—they started out slightly pessimistic and stayed slightly pessimistic.”

Although researchers aren’t recommending concussed athletes spend all day with their nose in their phones, they believe a little bit of exposure to a screen could go a long way.

“We’re still very cautious about limiting screen time during recovery for concussions, but cutting it out altogether can often make patients feel isolated and depressed, especially teenagers,” Worthen-Chaudhari said in a media release. “This app makes it possible for them to use screens just a little bit each day while assisting in their recovery from concussion at the same time.”

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