(SAN FRANCISCO) — A study, just published in the December print issue of the journal Schizophrenia Research, found that targeted cognitive training using BrainHQ — the computerized brain exercise app from Posit Science — shows promise, even for people with severe schizophrenia.
Researchers led by a team from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) randomized 46 patients into a treatment as usual control group and an intervention group that received treatment as usual plus targeted cognitive training from BrainHQ. The training consisted of six auditory processing exercises, with a total of approximately 28 hours of training assigned over a period of 12-13 weeks.
Schizophrenia can be a disabling disease, characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive deficits, hallucinations, and mood issues. The auditory exercises were chosen because prior studies have indicated that improving elemental auditory processing can lead to improvements in higher order cognitive operations.
While prior studies of this type of intervention have largely focused on patients with mild to moderate impairments, this study enrolled patients with more severe impairments, who were on much higher doses of antipsychotics. In fact, all patients in the study were under public guardianship or conservatorship, which, in California, requires a person to be “gravely disabled” (unable to provide for basic needs) and/or a danger to himself or herself or others. While prior studies have been in academic settings, these patients had been involuntarily mandated to receive care at non-academic, locked, residential facilities.
“Chronic, treatment-refractory patients mandated to locked residential care facilities make up just a small subgroup of persons with schizophrenia, but they consume a disproportionately large share of mental health care resources,” said Dr. Gregory Light, the senior author of the study in a press release from UCSD. “Finding an effective therapy for them is critical.”
The researchers noted that a concern in the field has been that chronically-ill, highly-disabled patients might not be able to beneﬁt from targeted cognitive training, given the demands of engaging with computerized exercises. However, in the new study, the researchers found significant improvements in standard measures of verbal learning and auditory perception in this very challenged population. In addition, exploratory analysis also showed a significant reduction in auditory hallucinations. The researchers also noted that the benefits were not negatively impacted by age, clinical symptoms, medication or illness duration.
“The results in this study underscore the potential for computerized plasticity-based training interventions, even with populations in very challenging health and living situations,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, the CEO of Posit Science. “We plan to continue to pursue the research, investment, and regulatory clearance necessary to get this technology into the hands of people who can benefit.”