People with schizophrenia face losing brain cells. This mental disorder is characterized by the gradual elimination of brain matter that functions fundamental social and comprehension skills. Up until now, researchers have battled with ways to halt and possibly reverse the degeneration of these cells without the use of drugs.
Matcheri S. Keshavan, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues seem to have discovered a cognitive enhancement therapy that appears to be doing just that.
This type of therapy “can protect against gray matter loss and may even support gray matter growth in medial temporal areas of the brain in service of cognitive enhancement among patients with early course schizophrenia,” Keshavan and colleagues wrote online in Archives of General Psychiatry.
The only problem is more research needs to be done to figure out which parts of the brain are growing. This would help to indicate the true value of their findings.
Nevertheless, this proves to be a good start.
Gray matter is the tissue that makes up cell bodies within the brain. White matter refers to the filaments that extend from the cell bodies. More volume in these areas usually indicates a person is functioning at a higher level.
To conduct this study, Keshavan and colleagues administered cognitive enhancement therapy or an enriched supportive therapy (the control program) to 53 stable patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
The cognitive enhancement therapy involved “innovative cognitive exercises and psychoeducation that foster the development of social-cognitive abilities and effective social interaction,” said Keshavan. They had hoped this approach would help patients overcome the hurdles of the social deficits of schizophrenia.
Patients were placed in groups of two. Then received a high-tech cognitive therapy, which involved using a computer-based tool to administer neurocognitive training. The Orientation Remediation Module created by Yehuda Ben-Yishay, PhD, and PSSCogReHab software developed by Odie Bracy, PhD was utilized in this study.
“Generalization to real-world settings is an explicit goal of cognitive enhancement therapy, and is promoted through weekly homework assignments and individual coaching sessions tailored to the unique needs of the patient,” Keshavan wrote.
Patients who received cognitive enhancement therapy proved to have increases in volume in the left hippocampus, left amygdala, and left fusiform gyrus (areas that handle social cognition). Also, small increases occurred in the right, left and frontal lobes.
Patients in the control group continued to experience brain shrinkage.
Keshavan and colleagues concluded that the program “can have direct benefits to the brains of patients with schizophrenia.”
Their approach proved to actually cause physical changes to occur in the brain. Up until now, no other cognitive therapy had helped to reverse brain shrinkage.