'Brain training' iPad game may assist schizophrenia treatment

August 5, 2015 5:24 am 

LONDON, Aug. 5 — A 'brain training' iPad game developed and tested by researchers at the University of Cambridge might improve the memory of patients with schizophrenia, according to a study published Monday in the Journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, ranging from changes in behavior through to hallucinations and delusions.

The symptoms are reasonably well treated by current medications; however, patients are still left with debilitating cognitive impairments, including in their memory.

The researchers said the iPad game, called Wizard, was the result of a nine-month collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game-developer and people with schizophrenia. It was aimed at improving an individual's episodic memory, so as to help Schizophrenia patients to overcome some of their symptoms.

The memory task was woven into a narrative in which the player was allowed to choose their own character and name, and the game rewarded progress with additional in-game activities to provide the user with a sense of progression independent of the cognitive training process, said the researchers.

Episodic memory is the type of memory required when you have to remember where you parked your car in a multi-storey car park after going shopping for several hours, for example. It is one of the facets of cognitive functioning to be affected in patients with schizophrenia.

The researchers assigned 22 participants, who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, to either the cognitive training group or a control group at random. Participants in the training group played the memory game for a total of eight hours over a four-week period, while those in the control group continued their treatment as usual.

At the end of the four weeks, the researchers tested all participants' episodic memory using some standard methods. They found that the patients who had played the memory game performed better.

It is not clear exactly how the apps also improved the patients' daily functioning, but the researchers suggest it may be because the cognitive training may have had an indirect impact on functionality by improving general motivation and restoring self-esteem.

Slow progress was being made towards developing a drug treatment, so this proof-of-concept study was important because it demonstrated that the memory game could help where drugs had so far failed, said Prof. Barbara Sahakian, who led the study. (PNA/Xinhua)

JBP/EBP

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