Video Games Donated to Texas Children's Hospital

The educational value of video games may be hotly debated, but researchers are finding a medical use for the devices. Handheld video games are part of the prep for surgery for some patients at Texas Children's Hospital.

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Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones playing a video game.

Six year old Dustin Jones couldn't wait to get his hands on one of the hand-held video games that were donated to Texas Children's Hospital. Dustin's mom, Kathleen Jones, had forgotten his at home back in the Valley.

"They love the Game Boys and it does occupy their time. It keeps their minds off their sickness. It does keep their minds off of what's happening and they have a good time and they like the challenge of the different games. I think it's very good for them."

The hand-held video games have a defined mission at Texas Children's Hospital and that is to help children get ready for surgery. Pain Service Director Doctor Nancy Glass:

"We have for a long time been trying to figure out a way of making surgery less threatening and scary for children. And there're lots of things that have been tried. In some places children go to sleep with their parents in the operating room with them. We've tried lots of different medications to try to help them relax."

But then researchers got the idea to see if video games might help. The result was that boys and girls between six and 12 years who were given video games remained relaxed before surgery. But Glass says the games are more than just a distraction.

"And so the kids that kept playing the games all the way into the operating room were just as relaxed as those who got medication and that was a real nice finding because we were able to give less medication."

Glass says using less medication is better. Keeping the child relaxed is important for the surgery and for the outcome. A relaxed child is more cooperative, has a lower heart rate, and is not likely to cry which can cause congestion. Glass says the state of mind of a child before surgery predicts how they'll be when they wake up.

"The children who go to sleep calm and relaxed wake up that way and the kids that go to sleep upset tend to wake up that way, so it makes a difference for us."

Research into the tie between video games and surgery is continuing. Glass says researchers are working to confirm the initial study which was completed about a year ago. Glass says they are looking to see if there are benefits in other age groups and they are looking at other technology. For example, is there a benefit to having a child watch a favorite movie on a portable DVD player. Texas Children's Hospital today accepted a $10,000 donation from Jack in the Box to purchase Game Boys.

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