August 03, 2015
2 min read

iPad game may improve memory among patients with schizophrenia

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An iPad game may improve episodic memory and functioning among patients with schizophrenia, according to study findings in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

“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,” study researcher Barbara J. Sahakian, FMedSci, DSc, of the University of Cambridge, said in a press release. “Because the game is interesting, even those patients with a general lack of motivation are spurred on to continue the training.”

Developed by Sahakian and colleagues during a 9-month period, the game — named Wizard — is a memory task disguised as a narrative in which the player chooses their own character and name and is rewarded for progress with additional in-game activities that provide a sense of progression independent of the cognitive training process.

Researchers assigned 22 individuals with diagnosed schizophrenia to play the memory game for 8 hours during a 4-week period or to receive treatment as usual. Episodic memory via the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, participants’ enjoyment and motivation and Global Assessment of Functioning scores were assessed after 4 weeks.

Compared with participants who received treatment as usual, study participants who played the memory game made significantly fewer errors and fewer attempts to remember the location of different patterns in the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery assessment and had higher Global Assessment of Functioning scores.

Participants reported they enjoyed the game and felt motivated to continue playing during the 8 hours of training.

“These are promising results and suggest that there may be the potential to use game apps to not only improve a patient's episodic memory, but also their functioning in activities of daily living,” Peter B. Jones, MD, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, said in the release. “We will need to carry out further studies with larger sample sizes to confirm the current findings, but we hope that, used in conjunction with medication and current psychological therapies, this could help people with schizophrenia minimize the impact of their illness on everyday life.”

In April 2015, Sahakian and colleagues began collaborating with researchers of the brain training app Peak to establish scientifically-tested cognitive training modules. As a result, a memory game based on Wizard, designed to train visual and episodic memory and promote learning was recently launched within Peak’s iOS app.

“This new app will allow the Wizard memory game to become widely available, inexpensively. State-of-the-art neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, combined with the innovative approach at Peak, will help bring the games industry to a new level and promote the benefits of cognitive enhancement,” Sahakian said. – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: Sahakian reports receiving a grant from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson and consult roles with Cambridge Cognition, Lundbeck, Otsuka and Servier. Please see the full study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.