Virtual Pet Game Manages Asthma

Studies show the average length of time children spend playing video games is 13.2 hours per week. One company is putting that gaming time to good use creating fun, interactive games to help manage their health issues.

Nine-year-old Allison Wu is an avid gymnast, but sometimes her asthma can make her body feel off balance.

"Normally I start to cough a lot, and sometimes it bothers my throat, and when it, like, really bothers me, I start to wheeze," Allison told Ivanhoe.

A new video game, called Wellapets, uses virtual pets to help kids with asthma understand and manage it.

"I am going to give my pet, um, the inhaler," Allison said.

A lovable fire-breathing dragon becomes the child's pet.  The only way to help him blow fire is to properly manage his asthma.

"I learned about that, like, cockroaches and smoke are not good," Allison said. 

As a mom and pediatrician, this is one video game Allison's mom, Ann Wu, wants her to play.

"She's learning how to take ownership of her own illness and not needing me for everything," Ann told Ivanhoe.

The game also teaches children about asthma triggers—like smog and reminds children how and when to use their medication properly.

"Taking your inhaler with the right technique. Taking your controller inhaler at the right time. Learning how to avoid triggers and learning how to recognize your own asthma symptoms and take action for those," Alexander Ryu, Wellapets Co-Founder/CEO, told Ivanhoe.

Even those who don't have asthma are enjoying the game and better understand what their siblings and friends go through.

It's a free app and can be downloaded at Google Play and the Apple Store. Lifeguard Games, the developer of Wellapets, say they plan to roll out a host of games to help manage food  allergies, diabetes and other health issues.

BACKGROUND: More than 25 million people in the United States have asthma. About 7 million of these people are children. Asthma is a disease that inflames and narrows the airways of the lungs. It can cause reoccurring periods of wheezing that is similar to a whistling sound when you breathe. It can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning. The disease usually starts in childhood, but affects people of all ages. (Source: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/)

SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: The exact cause of Asthma is not known. Researchers think some genetics and environmental factors interact and cause asthma early in life. There's one theory called the hygiene hypothesis. The researchers, who back this theory, think the current emphasis on hygiene and sanitation has resulted in changes in living conditions and decline in infections. They think this affects the way young children's immune systems develop during very early childhood and it may increase the risk for atopy and asthma...especially for children who have close family members with one or both of these conditions.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Boston-based LifeGuard Games is gearing up to launch a mobile game to teach children to manage their asthma. Wellapets, launched March 5, follows the mold of recently popular virtual pet games, but with an extra element of chronic disease management. The free app (currently for iOS and Android) can be downloaded at the Apple Store or Google Play.  It teaches and motivates asthmatic kids ages 6-11 in the United States not only to manage asthma, but help them cope with the stigma by providing a fun, normalizing virtual companion. According to LifeGuard company that created this application, playing this game can make kids healthier. The company has been working with Boston Children's Hospital to test the game on children with asthma. They plan to do more efficacy testing after the game has been out a year or so. Studies show that their games can help kids manage their cancer treatments, help kids with diabetes dramatically reduce urgent care visits, increase medication adherence and improve self-efficacy and communication with parents. For more information on this app, visit www.wellapets.com. (Source: http://lifeguardgames.com/)


Alexander Ryu

Wellapets Co-Founder and CEO

Office: 507-261-5938


Alexander Ryu, Wellapets Co-Founder and CEO talks about a new video game that teaches children how to make healthy choices when managing their asthma.

What does Wellapets teach?

Alexander Ryu: This game is based on teaching kids how to manage asthma whether they have asthma or whether their friend or their sibling has asthma. Wellapets are actually educational virtual pets for phones and tablets that teach kids and motivate kids to stay well. They are special because they combine this sticky timeless nature of popular virtual type games where you're taking care of a pet, collecting things for a pet's home with actual educational concepts that can teach kids how to stay well.

What does this game teach kids?

Alexander Ryu: This game specifically focuses on asthma. We worked with pediatricians in Boston to teach kids essentially four of the main components of taking care of asthma. Those are taking your inhaler with the right technique, taking your controller inhaler at the right time, learning how to avoid triggers and learning how to recognize your own asthma symptoms and take action for those.

What does the game do?

Alexander Ryu: The game gives kids a fun pet that they can play with .They take care of the pet and it actually has asthma. So this becomes part of what you have to do to take care of it.  This pet is a fire breathing dragon and it wants to blow fire but it can't unless you take care of its asthma. Part of taking care of this pet is you have to do the same things for the pet that you would do for yourself if you had asthma. You play games with the pet, you can collect things for its house, you can play around with your pet, visit it a few times a day and you also learn how to manage asthma at the same time.

So what are the trigger points that they learn about in the game?

Alexander Ryu: They're learning about how to avoid asthma triggers. Asthma triggers are the things in the environment that can set off an asthma attack like pollen, dust, and other things that would irritate your lungs. Those are also some of things that accumulate in the pet's house. Things get dirty over time so you have to clean those up so your pet doesn't get sick and have an asthma attack. When you go running outside with your pet you also have to make sure that your avoiding those through our little runner maze.

What are you hearing from the feedback from children that are using this game and their parents?

Alexander Ryu: Our feedback has been great so far. We've had a number of really enthusiastic parents seeing that this game is something fun that their kids actually enjoy and it's teaching them at the same time. This has been rare often in educational games with things that look and feel more like a tool or lecture than an actual game. The thing that's been really exciting for us is that we've had a number of kids without asthma actually play the game and enjoy it just for the sake that it's a fun game . I think this is really a success point because we've shown that we can make a fun game that's actually about asthma but really appeals to anyone.