Scientists have devised a “brain training” iPad game which aims to improve the lives of schizophrenia patients.
University of Cambridge researchers’ creation may improve the memory of the patients, helping them in their daily lives at work and living independently.
Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, ranging from changes in behaviour through to hallucinations and delusions. There are as yet no licensed pharmaceutical treatments to improve cognitive functions for the disorder.
Lead researcher Professor Barbara Sahakian described 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.
Intended to be fun, attention-grabbing game is 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.
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 CANTAB PAL test relative to the control group. In addition, patients in the cognitive training group saw an increase in their score on the GAF scale.
It was also found that those who were most motivated also performed best at the game. This is important, as lack of motivation is another common facet of schizophrenia.
Sahakian said that the proof-of-concept study is important because it demonstrated that the memory game could help where drugs have so far failed.
Professor Peter Jones added it is not clear exactly how the apps also improved the patients’ daily functioning, but it may be because improvements in memory had a direct impact on global functions or that the cognitive training may have had an indirect impact on functionality by improving general motivation and restoring self-esteem. Or indeed, both these explanations may have played a role in terms of the impact of training on functional outcome.
The game is built for four weeks of training and is priced at 14.99 US dollars.
The study is published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.