Vanderbilt tests video game to help COVID long-haulers with brain fog


NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) — Brain fog has become more prevalent among those who’ve recovered from COVID-19. It disrupts the ability to manage and carry out daily activities.

85% of long-haulers have lasting brain-related symptoms, according to a study published in the scientific journal, Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Jim Jackson is the Director of Behavioral Health at the ICU Recovery Center at Vanderbilt. He explained, “The symptoms that occur in COVID survivors, in many ways, fit the symptoms people have who have acquired brain injuries.”

Jackson has seen the effects facing long-haulers and fears this challenge may be the next public health crisis.

“There isn’t any doubt that significant numbers of people are having significant problems. That should give us pause, that should give you pause, before you react quickly to dismiss the validity of a person who is describing these things,” Jackson said.

The solution to the issue may lie in a video game. The company Akili was the first approved by the Food and Drug Administration to effectively treat patients with impaired cognitive function using technology.

“You can be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD,” Jackson said, “and you can get a prescription to use the Akili game and technology.”

The idea of digital therapeutics was developed a decade ago by a renown neuroscientist. Now the game has been altered to hopefully help COVID-19 survivors find relief.

“It’s engaging your brain in a certain duration with a certain intensity. When you’re doing better, the challenges get harder. When you’re doing worse, the challenges get easier. There’s something about the interplay that’s equivalent to using a workout analogy, to expert training,” said Jackson.

Vanderbilt will enroll trial participants in a 4-6 week study exposing them to specific sensory stimuli to activate the brain in hopes improvement translates to better everyday life function.

“This is grounded in robust science,” Jackson explained, “We’ll see what it shows, but there are reasons that we’re hopeful about this potentially changing the trajectory of survivors of COVID-19 with cognitive impairment.”

The first round of trials will involve 100 Nashvillians. Additional trials are expected to follow.

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