Monday, January 19, 2009

Preventing Nightmares and PTSD Flashbacks with Tetris

A new study in the online journal PLoS ONE shows that playing the computer game Tetris can reduce unwanted “flashbacks.”

This is promising for people who suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Could it also help other people who suffer from nightmares?

The study involved 40 people who watched a traumatic, 12-minute film. It contained scenes of real injury and death.

After a 30-minute break, half of the group played Tetris for 10 minutes. The other half sat quietly.

Flashbacks were monitored for one week using a daily diary. Subjects then returned to the lab for an assessment.

Results show that Tetris players had significantly fewer flashbacks. They also had fewer clinical symptoms of trauma.

At the one-week follow up, both groups scored the same on a recognition memory test for the film. This indicates that voluntary recall was similar between the groups. It was the rate of involuntary memories – flashbacks – that was different.

Tetris requires you to arrange a falling puzzle of colorful block-like shapes. The authors told
Reuters that the visual aspect of the game may compete with the traumatic, visual memories. It may interfere with how your mind forms and stores the memories.

One of the study’s authors noted that you have about six hours to affect memories before they are stored in the brain. Any type of intervention needs to be done in this window of time.

The AASM reports that nightmares tend to be the most disturbing aspect of PTSD. Often the dreams involve a flashback to the event that seems shockingly real.

Potential implications of the study also extend beyond PTSD. It suggests that a visual distraction like Tetris could reduce nightmares for anyone after a stressful event.

It could be especially helpful for children who are prone to having nightmares after seeing a scary movie or other distressing images.

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