Brain training games have been shown to help strengthen memory and recall, but now scientists have discovered that a new iPad game may help schizophrenia patients live independently.
The application Wizard was specifically designed to help improve the memory in people who suffer with schizophrenia, reports University Herald. Medication is often used to treat the psychotic symptoms in patients that range from changes in behavior to hallucinations, but can also leave patients with cognitive impairments, namely memory problems that can prevent them from returning to work or school.
"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," Barbara Sahakian, who led the study, said in a statement. "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."
Wizard was the product of a nine-month collaboration between neuroscientists, psychologists, a professional game developer, and people with schizophrenia. The game's goal is to improve the player's episodic memory while providing an interesting, motivating game, according to the University of Cambridge. Players choose a character and progress through a narrative where they are rewarded by in-game activities to make the experience more than just memory training.
Twenty-two participants were randomly divided into a cognitive training group and a control group. People who were placed in the cognitive training group played Wizard a total of eight hours within a four-week period, while the control group continued their treatment as usual.
After four weeks, all of the participants' episodic memory was tested and it was found that participants who played Wizard made fewer errors and needed fewer attempts to remember locations of different patterns.
Professor Peter Jones adds: "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. 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."
Researchers also found that participants who played the game enjoyed it and were motivated to play more.
The most motivated players performed the best — an important factor, because lack of motivation is a common problem among people with schizophrenia, writes Janice Wood for Psych Central.