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Cambridge University Science Magazine
While medications are reasonably effective in treating the “classical” schizophrenia symptoms, they usually have limited effects on cognitive function. A research team from the University of Cambridge employed a game designer and consulted with patients to develop a new way of improving episodic memory. They developed a fun, interactive game for an iPad. Participants chose and named their character, listened to stimulating music and tried to remember the location of patterns in the environment. While easy at first, the game became harder the longer participants played.

The schizophrenic patients showed high task motivation and enjoyment, which is a great achievement given the common lack of motivation. Importantly, patients who played the game over 4 weeks were significantly better at an episodic memory task than patients who continued their normal treatment without the game. But there was another beneficial effect: the game players also showed higher ratings of global function, taking into account social, occupational and psychological measures.

The game influenced the patients beyond simple memory improvement. However, this is a small proof-of concept study with only 22 participants. It remains to be seen if a follow-up study with a bigger sample and good control conditions shows similar effects. If it does, the team may have found an effective and entertaining way to treat cognitive deficits and general functioning in schizophrenia and possibly other psychiatric conditions – virtually without side effects.

DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0214

Written by Julia Gottwald – PhD student at the Department of Psychiatry, twitter: @julia_gottwald