Tetris to the rescue of women who have experienced traumatic childbirth

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Image: Alexander Grey (Unsplash)
Image: Alexander Grey (Unsplash)

Playing Tetris for fifteen minutes can prevent psychological trauma in mothers after a difficult birth: so suggests a large-scale study conducted at CHUV and HUG and published in Molecular Psychiatry. The study’s findings pave the way for a routine intervention to prevent the development of symptoms of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

An international team from the University of Lausanne and CHUV has shown that a therapeutic activity involving fifteen minutes of the video game ’Tetris’ could prevent the development of symptoms of childbirth-related post-traumatic stress disorder - or ’PTSD-A’. This large-scale study involved 146 women, half of whom played Tetris and half of whom completed a placebo activity within six hours of their emergency caesarean section. The results from the team led by Antje Horsch , Associate Professor at the University of Lausanne’s Faculty of Biology and Medicine and Research Consultant at the CHUV’s Département femme-mère-enfant, show that the Tetris group had significantly fewer symptoms of PTSD-A, up to six months after delivery.

Tetris interferes with the memory consolidation of traumatic images

By engaging the ’visuospatial’ region of the brain, responsible for vision and orientation in space, the game Tetris may interfere with the memory consolidation of traumatic images. These images play a central role in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. As memory consolidation occurs within a few hours, playing Tetris soon after a traumatic event could prevent the development of PTSD. Antje Horsch’s team is the first to prove the effectiveness of this intervention in the context of difficult childbirth.

One in five women suffer from PTSD-A symptoms

PTSD-A is a common mental health disorder, affecting one in five women after an emergency C-section. It manifests itself mainly as flashbacks and nightmares, irritability, difficulty sleeping and hypervigilance regarding the newborn. These symptoms can seriously disrupt daily life, with repercussions for the whole family. At present, prevention of PTSD related to childbirth is proving difficult due to the lack of scientifically validated treatments.

Tetris may also prevent PTSD after other traumatic events

The results of Antje Horsch’s team could therefore have a significant impact on the prevention of PTSD after difficult childbirth, but also after other traumatic events. We are very enthusiastic because the activity was carried out under the supervision of the midwives and nurses in the maternity units, showing that it can be integrated into routine care. What’s more, this intervention is brief, inexpensive and accessible to anyone, whatever their mother tongue. It therefore has real clinical potential’, explain Drs. Camille Deforges and Vania Sandoz, first authors of the study.

Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the study was rigorously conducted using a randomized, controlled, double-blind protocol, reinforcing the reliability and robustness of the results. It thus represents an important advance in mental health care after difficult childbirth and, more broadly, after any traumatic event.

Publication :
Deforges, C.*, Sandoz, V.*, Noël, Y., Avignon, V., Desseauve, D., Bourdin, J.,Vial, Y., Ayers, S., Holmes, E.A., Epiney, M. & Horsch, A. (2023). Single-session visuospatial task procedure to prevent childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder: a multicentre double-blind randomised controlled trial. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/s41380’023 -02275-w
*Contributed equally as first authors