A new brain training app could help to improve schizophrenia patients’ memory and their quality of life. Researchers from Cambridge University have developed a brain game that may be able to overcome some of the current limitations of drug therapy and help schizophrenia patients to minimize the impact of the condition.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects more than 21 million people worldwide. Those who suffer from the long-term mental health condition can exhibit a number of psychological symptoms, which include hallucinations, difficulty concentrating and delusions. While schizophrenia can be managed with current medications and psychosocial support, patients are still left with cognitive impairments, such as memory loss. As a result, patients are often unable to live independent lives as they struggle to recall memories that are critical to their day to day life.
Professor Barbara Sahakian and her research team, from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge, suggest that their app – called Wizard – could step in to help improve cognitive functions for schizophrenia patients. Researchers hope that Wizard can fill in the gap in pharmaceutical treatments to improve episodic memory, which schizophrenia is known to affect. This is a person’s specific memory of an event or experience, which can be the spot you parked your car or where you left your keys.
Researchers recruited 22 participants who had a schizophrenia diagnosis for the study, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. They split the participants into two groups: one played the brain training game for a total of eight hours over a four-week period, and the other group didn’t get to play the game. Researchers then tested all participants’ episodic memory with the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) PAL. Researchers also measured participants’ level of enjoyment and motivation using the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale.
The study showed a significant benefit for those using the Wizard app. Schizophrenia patients who used the app made fewer errors in the (CANTAB) PAL tests compared to the control group. These patients also had an increased GAF scale score, which researchers interpreted to suggest that they not only enjoyed the game, but were motivated to continue playing. Those who were most motivated to play the app did the best.
“The memory game can help where drugs have so far failed. Because the game is interesting, even those patients with a general lack of motivation are spurred on to continue the training,” Sahakian said in a statement.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why the app was able to help Schizophrenia patients improve episodic memory, but suggest that this apparent effect could directly impact global functions or have an indirect impact on motivation and self-esteem. As the sample size was pretty small, researchers would need to do further research to confirm the study’s findings.