New Therapy for Schizophrenics

Schizophrenics may have a new treatment option that works well and does not involve drugs

(RxWiki News) The human brain has a great capacity to learn and adapt, even in people who have mental disorders. A computer-based cognitive and functional therapy may help people with schizophrenia live better.

Recent research in brain plasticity and cognitive remediation has yielded positive results for schizophrenic patients.

These patients learned new functional skills and ways to see the world for a better quality of life.

"Ask your therapist about cognitive remediation therapy."

Christopher R. Bowie, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, led an investigation into training methods to help schizophrenics.

A total of 107 outpatient schizophrenics were randomly assigned to cognitive remediation, functional adaptation skills training or a combination of the two.

At the beginning, end and 12 weeks post-treatment each subject was tested for clinical symptoms, neurocognition, social competence, functional competence and real-world behavior.

Both the cognitive remediation and functional skills training were designed to alter the way schizophrenics thought and functioned without the use of pharmaceuticals.

In a previous study by Sophia Vinogradov, MD, professor-in-residence of mental health at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, used computer-based training to help schizophrenics.

Dr. Vinogradov discovered that the principles of neural plasticity applied to schizophrenics as well. Meaning that their brains are flexible to learning new ways of thinking.

This approach is called “cognitive remediation”, and it works like a computer game to train schizophrenic patients new ways to function in the world.

Dr. Bowie’s results of using cognitive remediation showed great improvement in neurocognition. Functional competence in the real world was best when cognitive remediation was coupled with the skills training.

Both Dr. Bowie and Dr. Vinogradov’s studies have shown that a diagnosis of schizophrenia does not mean permanent impairment without any hope for improvement.

The main outcome of these treatments was a better quality of life.

Dr. Vinogradov said, “When the brain is learning new verbal and auditory information, verbal and auditory stimuli are coming through the auditory system.”

“We know these systems aren’t working very well in schizophrenia so we have to ‘tune up’ the brain to be a better listener and to be better at attending to and representing bits and pieces of auditory and verbal information and holding them in working memory.”

“In this way, we can drive improvements in these distributed neural systems at every level, by helping to clean up the signal in an otherwise noisy system.”

Dr. Vinogradov expressed a hope for the future of schizophrenics through this kind of computer-based therapy. While it was intensive, time consuming, and not as simple as taking medication, it had long lasting, positive results in more than one study.

This study was published in July in The American Journal of Psychiatry. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Review Date: 
August 7, 2012