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Study Suggests Interacting with Avatars May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in Young Adults

Dr. Melissa Pinto uses virtual 3D images to help patients prepare for office visits and learn self-management skills

Posted 2/14/13

students
KL2 Clinical Research Scholar and Instructor
Melissa Pinto, PhD, RN

Young adults, in a period of transition, often are reluctant to seek treatment for mental health problems because of the stigma, inadequate insurance coverage and difficulty finding a mental health care provider.

But a new preliminary study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University suggests that depression symptoms may be significantly reduced when 18- to 25-year-olds interact with computerized avatars—virtual 3-D images of a health care provider like a nurse practitioner or physician—as a way to rehearse office visits ahead of time and learn self-management skills.

Study results were published in the Applied Nursing Research journal article, “Avatar-based depression self-management technology: promising approach to improve depression symptoms among young adults.”

Melissa Pinto, a KL2 Clinical Research Scholar and instructor at Case Western Reserve’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, collaborated with developers of the Electronic Self-Management Resource Training (eSMART) team: Assistant Professor Ronald Hickman Jr., PhD, RN, ACNP-BC and John Clochesy (now at University of Southern Florida) from the nursing school, and Marc Buchner from the Virtual Gaming Lab at Case Western Reserve’s engineering school.

Pinto said the study was the first to her knowledge to use an avatar-based intervention for this age group to improve depressive symptoms.

The researcher used a Case Western Reserve-designed virtual program, called eSMART-MH. eSMART-MH was adapted from a previous platform (eSMART-HD) designed by the team to help adults with chronic health problems manage their health.

The interactive avatar program, eSMART-MH, was designed in Buchner’s Virtual Gaming Lab and tailored for young adults with depressive symptoms. eSMART-MH walks young adults through healthcare appointments with an avatar healthcare provider in virtual primary care office setting. During these visits, young adults practice talking about depression, ask avatar healthcare providers questions and learn self-managements skills to help manage depressive symptoms.

Source: The Daily

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