Detecting ADHD Through VR


Abhinav Raj

Abhinav Raj, Writer


Researchers at Aalto University have leveraged virtual reality (VR) and machine learning (ML) to detect ADHD through differences in eye movements, which may lead to precision diagnosis and therapy.

The transformative potential of VR is sending quakes across the MedTech industry. Discoveries in the ‘virtual’ reality now have real-world implications in medical science—such as the diagnosis of behavioural disorders like attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurobehavioural condition that affects 1 in 50 adults and 1 in 10 children in the United Kingdom. The behavioural condition is characterised often by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity amongst those who are diagnosed with it. 

ADHD can lead to difficulties in various areas of life, including school, work, and social relationships. People with ADHD may also struggle with executive function skills, such as organization and managing time effectively. They may also have difficulty initiating tasks, following through on projects, and keeping their emotions and behaviour in check. ADHD can also impact their day-to-day social interactions and self-esteem detrimentally. 

Individuals with ADHD need to receive proper diagnosis and treatment, which may include medication and behavioural therapy, to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

A cohort of researchers from Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and the Åbo Akademi University jointly developed a gamified approach to assess the symptoms of ADHD in children through virtual reality and machine learning (ML). The game, known as EPELI (Executive Performance in Everyday LIving) relies on eye movement tracking in a virtual environment to diagnose the symptoms of ADHD. 

The researchers the virtual reality game to track the eye movements of children and then applied machine learning to identify differences between children with ADHD and a control group.

37 children diagnosed with ADHD and 36 children in the control group participated in the study, playing both the EPELI game and a second game called ‘Shoot the Target’, wherein players locate and “shoot” objects by looking at them.

“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. 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”, explained Liya Merzon, a doctoral student of neuroscience at Aalto University and the lead author of the research. 

 “This might indicate a delay in visual system development and poorer information processing than other children.”

The study ‘Eye movement behaviour in a real-world virtual reality task reveals ADHD in children’ appears in the journal Scientific Reports

Virtual reality is changing the landscape of healthcare. The technology has been leveraged to achieve therapeutic effects in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS), manage the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and now, diagnose neurobehavioural disorders, such as ADHD. 

The use of virtual reality and machine learning in the diagnosis of ADHD and other neurobehavioural disorders has shown promising results. The ability to track eye movements and identify differences in individuals with ADHD can provide a quicker and more accurate method of diagnosis, leading to improved treatment and quality of life for those affected. 

As VR technology continues to advance, we will likely see an increasing number of applications in the field of advanced healthcare.