People with schizophrenia who completed 80 hours of intensive, computerized cognitive training exercises were better able to perform complex tasks that required them to distinguish their internal thoughts from reality.
As described in the journal Neuron (2/22/12), a small clinical study conducted at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), tested the digital exercises as a new therapy for schizophrenia.
"We predicted that in order to improve complex cognitive functions in neuropsychiatric illness, we must target impairments in lower-level perceptual processes, as well as higher-order working-memory and social cognitive processes," said Srikantan Nagarajan, PhD, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging at UCSF and a senior author of the study.
When compared with their assessments before the training, schizophrenia patients who received 80 hours of computerized training over the course of 16 weeks became better at monitoring reality. This improvement coincided with increased activation in a key part of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex.
"The medial prefrontal cortex is a critical higher-order brain region that supports successful reality-monitoring processes," said Karuna Subramaniam, the study's first author, who worked directly with the patients in the study and analyzed their data.
HOW THE STUDY WORKED
Schizophrenia strikes about 1 percent of all Americans and about 51 million people worldwide. It is one of the most intractable and difficult to treat psychiatric illnesses, with prognosis becoming progressively poorer the longer a patient has the disease, according to the study's senior author, Sophia Vinogradov, MD, professor and interim associate chief of staff for mental Health at SFVAMC and interim vice chair of psychiatry at UCSF.
One of the core impairments of the disease is losing a grip on what
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University of California - San Francisco