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New iPad app helps schizophrenia patients

Research shows the app ‘Wizard’ could aid memory and independence

A 'brain training' iPad game developed and tested by researchers at the University of Cambridge may improve the memory of patients with schizophrenia, helping them in their daily lives at work and living independently.

This is according to new research published this week in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

A team of researchers, led by Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge describe how they developed and tested 'Wizard' - an iPad game aimed at improving an individual's episodic memory. 

Episodic memory is the type of memory required when you have to remember where you parked your car in a multi-storey car park after going shopping for several hours or where you left your keys in home several hours ago, for example. 

It is one of the facets of cognitive functioning to be affected in patients with schizophrenia.

The game was the result of a nine-month collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game-developer and people with schizophrenia

It was intended to be fun, attention-grabbing, motivating and easy to understand, whilst at the same time improving the player's episodic memory. 

The memory task was woven into a narrative in which the player was allowed to choose their own character and name; the game rewarded progress with additional in-game activities to provide the user with a sense of progression independent of the cognitive training process.

Professor Sahakian and colleagues found that the patients who had played the memory game made significantly fewer errors and needed significantly fewer attempts to remember the location of different patterns in the test relative to the control group.

Prof Sahakian said: “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. 

“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.”

Psychotic symptoms are treated by current medications, but patients can be left with debilitating cognitive impairments, including in their memory, and so are frequently unable to return to university or work.

There are as yet no licensed pharma treatments to improve cognitive functions for people with schizophrenia. 

However, there is increasing evidence that computer-assisted training and rehabilitation can help people with schizophrenia overcome some of their symptoms, with better outcomes in daily functioning and their lives.

Article by
Ben Adams

5th August 2015

From: Research

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