VR eye-tracking game proposed to objectively diagnose ADHD
Using a newly developed virtual reality game, researchers believe they have created a novel tool that can objectively diagnose attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The system tracks a user's eye movements and has also been proposed as a way of monitoring whether certain therapeutic interventions can improve the condition.
Despite decades of controversy, ADHD is now a widely agreed-upon neurodevelopmental disorder. But although most clinicians agree the condition is real, exactly how to diagnose it is still the source of much acrimony. Because ADHD is such as heterogenous condition, it's currently only diagnosable through an often onerous set of behavioral and psychiatric assessments. This new research builds on several recent technological advances to present a VR system that looks to objectively diagnose the condition.
The new system builds on a previously developed VR game dubbed EPELI (Executive Performance in Everyday LIving), which was initially designed as a way of monitoring a person's ADHD symptoms.
"The game provides a list of tasks that simulate everyday life, such as brushing your teeth and eating a banana," explained Topi Siro, one of the original developer's working on EPELI. "The player has to remember the tasks despite distractions in the environment, such as a TV being on. The game measures everything: how much the child clicks on the controls and how efficiently they perform the tasks. Efficiency correlates with everyday functioning, whereas children with ADHD often have challenges."
In its early form EPELI was somewhat effective as a diagnostic tool but in a new iteration the system has greatly improved its accuracy by incorporating eye movement tracking. Using a combination of eye tracking and machine learning the researchers found certain unique patterns of eye movement were detectable in children with ADHD.
"We tracked children's natural eye movements as they performed different tasks in a virtual reality game, and this proved to be an effective way of detecting ADHD symptoms," said Liya Merzon, a researcher from Aalto University. "The ADHD children's gaze paused longer on different objects in the environment, and their gaze jumped faster and more often from one spot to another. This might indicate a delay in visual system development and poorer information processing than other children."
This is not the first time VR has been floated as a diagnostic tool for neurological disorders. In 2019 a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge presented a system that could distinguish age-related cognitive impairment from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
But the researchers working on EPELI are looking further than just developing an ADHD diagnostic tool. The system is ambitiously being proposed as a digital therapy tool that could improve some of the behavioral symptoms associated with ADHD.
The idea is VR could help behavioral therapists focus the attention of children with ADHD. And the development of systems such as EPELI look to offer everything from diagnosis to treatment.
The new study was published in Scientific Reports.
Source: Aalto University