Using certain computer games can improve the symptoms of schizophrenia and produce long-lasting benefits for patients, a new study has revealed this week.
Schizophrenia affects 1% of the population, or 70 million sufferers worldwide.
People with the condition develop hallucinations, hearing sounds and voices that aren’t really there and seeing things that don’t exist in reality. They also develop delusions – which are false ideas – to help them come to terms with these strange experiences. Together these effects can destroy a person’s quality of life, and their relationships with others.
But now a team at the University of California, San Francisco led by Karuna Subramaniam have found that using specially-written computer games that rely heavily on memory and also require players to intensively process auditory and visual information, including interpreting facial expressions, can produce significant improvements in the player’s symptoms.
The researchers compared a group of 31 schizophrenics and 16 healthy “control” individuals over a 16 week period. After a baseline brain scan of all the individuals, the schizophrenics were split randomly into two roughly equal groups, one of which played commercial computer games and the other spent the same amount of time – 80 hours – using the brain-training software built by the researchers.
At the end of study, the participants were re-assessed using a range of behavioural and scanning-based methods.
Compared with the individuals who played the commercial computer games, those that received the brain-training treatment showed a significant improvement in their accuracy of information recall. This was mirrored by improved social functioning and an increase in activity in a brain region called the medial pre-frontal cortex, which is concerned with planning and decision making.
I spoke to study co-author Sophia Vinogradov about the implications of their findings…
Sophia - These data raise the exciting likelihood that the neural impairments in schizophrenia—and undoubtedly other neuropsychiatric illnesses—are not immutably fixed, but instead may be amenable to well-designed behavioural interventions that target restoration of neural system functioning."
These findings may have far-reaching implications for improving the quality of life for patients suffering from neuropsychiatric illness, not just from schizophrenia but also other disorders defined by cognitive deficits including autism and obsessive control disorder”.
Sophia Vinogradov, who published that study this week in the journal Neuron.