VANCOUVER -- Can video games help improve brain function? Researchers at the University of Victoria have teamed up with groups across the country to find out. They’ve developed a game that could help children improve memory function, decision-making and address some behavioural problems.

It’s called Dino Island, and it’s designed for kids with neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit disorder and autism. While playing the series of five games, some of the children wear a special hat, a “NeuroCatch cap,” that measures their brainwaves over the 14 weeks they play, says Sean Choi, a kinesiologist.

“(It will) track the changes that occur from beginning, middle and end to see how we’re improving over time,” he says.

The data is collected as part of a three-year study, conducted by UVic, Surrey’s HealthTech Connex Inc. and in partnership with other groups. 

“Seven to 14 per cent of children are affected neurodevelopmental disorders and cognitive challenges in the areas of attention and executive function, including focusing, flexibility, remembering and self-regulating,” says Dr. Sarah Macoun, one of the people spearheading the study. “Unfortunately, treatment for such cognitive challenges is costly and difficult to access, and there are very few such interventions that have proven effective.” 

If it works, Dino Island could be a great, low-cost tool for kids to use in their own homes. Right now, they’re hoping 60 kids will sign up to participate in the study.

“We’re wanting to look at whether the game improves brain function at a neuro level,” Macoun says. 

“So are we seeing that improvement in how brain systems are connecting and wiring together. We’re wanting to look at is the game improving their thinking abilities when we give them cognitive tests, and then we’re wanting to look at, most importantly, does it change behaviour in the real world. 

"Are we seeing children who engage in the game, who are now better regulated, who have better attention and focus, which is the abilities that we’re looking for.”

Jennifer Boston is excited that her daughter, Addison, is participating in the program. Addison is in Grade 6 and has high-functioning autism. 

“It was a bit difficult in the beginning getting the diagnosis, but we’ve learned to support her and find all the help we can,” she says. “That’s why I was so excited to be a part of the study. I’m hoping that it helps improve her focus and her memory, and helps her to persevere.”