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An app for concussion recovery

SuperBetter encourages teens to battle concussion symptoms

Have you known someone with a concussion? Perhaps it was you.

You may know that doctors recommend limiting the use of mobile devices, watching television and even reading.

New research, however, reveals patients who played a health game app during the day improved their symptoms faster than with medical treatment alone.

Concussion symptoms can include a variety of complaints, including headaches, confusion, depression, sleep disturbance, fatigue, irritability, agitation, anxiety, dizziness, difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly, sensitivity to light and noise, and impaired cognitive function.

“Teens who've had a concussion are told not to use media or screens, and we wanted to test if it was possible for them to use screens just a little bit each day,” said Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, a physical rehabilitation specialist who studies movement at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute.

In a study of 19 participants, some received the standard of care for concussion symptoms, while an experimental group also used the game app SuperBetter during treatment.

The SuperBetter game allows patients to battle bad guys representing concussion symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness or confusion, with medical power ups, such as sleep or sunglasses. Researchers at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center collaborated with Jane McGonigal of the Institute of the Future, who developed the SuperBetter app after she had a concussion.

Since patients may be frustrated by headaches they’re suffering, taking action to defeat the headache bad guy on the app can help reframe that emotion, said Worthen-Chaudhari.

For teens, being away from their mobile devices could mean a large decrease in socializing with their friends. This isolating inactivity could lead to a lifestyle change that adds risk factors, such as depression.

With the app, teens can use the psychological strengths needed for game playing to face real-life situations, such as illness or injury. Teens learn to be resilient and optimistic in the face of challenges.