Brain Training iPad Game Helps Improve Memory For People With Schizophrenia

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Researchers at the University of Cambridge claim they have developed a new brain training iPad game that could help improve the memory of individuals with schizophrenia, according to a new report published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

People who live with schizophrenia are often able to manage the psychotic symptoms of the condition through medication, but cognitive impairments from schizophrenia have been much more difficult to treat and frequently contribute to being unable to return to school or work.

The researchers say there are no medications available to improve cognitive function for individuals with schizophrenia, but there is evidence that computer-assisted training may provide significant improvements regarding cognitive function.

One of the aspects of memory most impacted by schizophrenia is episodic memory. Episodic memory is the type of memory needed to remember where things hours later, such as remember where you parked after hours of shopping or remembering where you put your keys yesterday.

The team of researchers developed an iPad game called Wizard, through nine months of collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game developer, and individuals with schizophrenia. They say it is designed to be fun to play, attention-grabbing, easy to understand, and motivation, while also improving the player’s episodic memory.

This is accomplishing by weaving a memory task into a narrative that allows players to choose their own character and name. The game rewards progress with additional in-game activities that provide a sense of accomplishment and progression.

To test the game out, the researchers recruited 22 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, then randomly assigned them to cognitive training or a control group. Those in the training group played the memory game for a total of eight hours over four weeks, while those in the control group maintained their usual treatment.

At the end of the cognitive training period, the researchers evaluated all participants’ episode memory using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) PAL, as well as measuring their level of enjoyment and motivation, and the participants’ score on the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale, which assess social, occupational, and psychological functioning of adults.

The results showed those who were assigned to the cognitive training group made far less errors and needed significantly fewer attempts to remember the location of different patterns in the CANTAB PAL test compared to the control group This group also showed notable increases in their GAF scale scores.

The members of the cognitive training group also reported they enjoyed the game and were motivated to continue playing through the test period. The researchers also noted those who were most motivated also performed best at the game.

“We need a way of treating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as problems with episodic memory, but slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment,” Sahakian said. “So this proof-of-concept study is important because it demonstrates that 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.”

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