The limitations and challenges in the assessment of executive dysfunction associated with real-world functioning: The opportunity of serious games

Appl Neuropsychol Adult. 2023 Feb 24;1-17. doi: 10.1080/23279095.2023.2174438. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Nowadays, there is a broad range of methods for detecting and evaluating executive dysfunction ranging from clinical interview to neuropsychological evaluation. Nevertheless, a critical issue of these assessments is the lack of correspondence of the neuropsychological test's results with real-world functioning. This paper proposes serious games as a new framework to improve the neuropsychological assessment of real-world functioning. We briefly discuss the contribution and limitations of current methods of evaluation of executive dysfunction (paper-and-pencil tests, naturalistic observation methods, and Information and Communications Technologies) to inform on daily life functioning. Then, we analyze what are the limitations of these methods to predict real-world performance: (1) A lack of appropriate instruments to investigate the complexity of real-world functioning, (2) the vast majority of neuropsychological tests assess well-structured tasks, and (3) measurement of behaviors are based on simplistic data collection and statistical analysis. This work shows how serious games offer an opportunity to develop more efficient tools to detect executive dysfunction in everyday life contexts. Serious games provide meaningful narrative stories and virtual or real environments that immerse the user in natural and social environments with social interactions. In those highly interactive game environments, the player needs to adapt his/her behavioral performance to novel and ill-structured tasks which are suited for collecting user interaction evidence. Serious games offer a novel opportunity to develop better tools to improve diagnosis of the executive dysfunction in everyday life contexts. However, more research is still needed to implement serious games in everyday clinical practice.

Keywords: Ecological validity; Information and Communications Technologies; executive function; neuropsychological assessment; real-world functioning; serious game.