Emerging research suggests a specific type of computerized cognitive training can lead to neural and behavioral improvements for individuals with schizophrenia.
The intensive, 16-week reality-based approach resulted in improved social functioning for several months following the training. Researchers believe the success of the program may lead to new methods for improving the quality of life for patients suffering from neuropsychiatric illness.
Schizophrenia is a debilitating psychiatric illness that is associated with severe clinical symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, as well as substantial social and cognitive deficits.
“Schizophrenia patients struggle with ‘reality monitoring,’ the ability to separate the inner world from the outer reality,” said senior author, Dr. Sophia Vinogradov.
“Although there are drugs that reduce the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia, current medications do not improve cognitive deficits. In addition, conventional psychotherapy has not proven to be successful, and there is a pressing need for new therapeutic strategies.”
In the current study, researchers utilized a nonconventional approach to enhancing behavior and brain activation in individuals with schizophrenia.
“We predicted that in order to improve complex cognitive functions in neuropsychiatric illness, we must initially target impairments in lower-level perceptual processes, as well as higher-order working memory and social cognitive processes,” said senior study author, Dr. Srikantan Nagarajan.
Investigators found that when compared with pretraining assessments, schizophrenia patients who received 80 hours of computerized training (over 16 weeks) exhibited improvements in their ability to perform complex reality-monitoring tasks.
The ability to perform the complex tasks were associated with increased activation of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).
“We found that the level of mPFC activation was also linked with better social functioning six months after training,” said first author Dr. Karuna Subramaniam.
“In contrast, patients in a control group who played computer games for 80 hours did not show any improvements, demonstrating that the behavioral and neural improvements were specific to the computerized training patient group.”
“Our study is the first to demonstrate that neuroscience-informed cognitive training can lead to more ‘normal’ brain-behavior associations in patients with schizophrenia, which in turn predict better social functioning months later,” concluded Vinogradov.
“These findings 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 interventions that target restoration of neural system functioning.”
Source: Cell Press