Using Tetris to tap into the nostalgia associated with caring for COVID-19 patients


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Boxplots showing the number of memories of traumatic events. The center line of each boxplot is the median value, with the upper and lower limits of the box being the third and first quartiles (75th and 25th percentiles), and the whiskers covering 1.5 times the interquartile range (IQR). Dots represent outliers (each dot represents a participant who lagged the IQR by more than 1.5 times, above the third quartile and below the first quartile). Credit: translational psychiatry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41398-023-02578-0

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Boxplots showing the number of memories of traumatic events. The center line of each boxplot is the median value, with the upper and lower limits of the box being the third and first quartiles (75th and 25th percentiles), and the whiskers covering 1.5 times the interquartile range (IQR). Dots represent outliers (each dot represents a participant who lagged the IQR by more than 1.5 times, above the third quartile and below the first quartile). Credit: translational psychiatry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41398-023-02578-0

A team of critical care experts and psychologists affiliated with institutions in the UK and Sweden have found that the video game Tetris can block intrusive memories in nurses who have cared for COVID-19 patients. Their study has been published in the journal translational psychiatry,

Prior research has suggested that one way to treat people suffering from PTSD is to attempt to pair the benign memory with the traumatic memory so that when a triggering event occurs the benign memory comes to the surface instead of the traumatic memory.

Similarly, some of the researchers in this current study found in 2019 that asking patients to play Tetris while focusing on a traumatic memory could make them less likely to experience traumatic memories or flashbacks.

In this new effort, the research team applied similar ideas to help nurses better handle the stress of traumatic flashbacks associated with caring for COVID-19 patients.

During the pandemic, nurses caring for patients with severe symptoms have testified to painful fantasies — for example, patients dying struggling to breathe. It can be one thing to see a child’s face when he learns of his parent’s death. In many cases, such fantasies persist, causing many nurses to re-experience the trauma.

To prevent such experiences, researchers once again turned to Tetris. Volunteer nurses were asked to think about images that were disturbing to them while playing the game. As they did this, they were also asked to mentally turn over bad memories in their minds. Everyone was asked to play the game for between 10 and 20 minutes per session, and all volunteers practiced regularly over a four-week period. Next, all volunteers were asked to rate any differences in the number of intrusive memory events they were experiencing.

After all the volunteers finished their tests, the research team found that, on average, the nurses experienced only one tenth the number of intrusion events. They also found that nurses also reported reductions in other symptoms such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.

more information:
Lalitha Iyadurai et al, Reducing intrusive memories after trauma through an imagery-competing task intervention in COVID-19 intensive care staff: a randomized controlled trial, translational psychiatry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41398-023-02578-0

Journal Information:
translational psychiatry

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