People With Schizophrenia Are Using Brain Training Games to Help Their Symptoms

Image credit: Lou Levit

Image credit: Lou Levit

Brain training games may be of questionable benefit in many cases, but the science is clearer for people with schizophrenia. Certain cognitive impairments that can be particularly troublesome respond well to specially-designed brain training programs, according to the limited research we have available. Episodic memory is one area that researchers have been able to observe improvements. Verbal memory is another.

Buzzfeed spoke with two men who have participated in trials of brain training programs led by Sophia Vinogradov and her colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The programs are designed by a company called Posit Science, creators of BrainHQ. Vinogradov has been working with similar programs since the 1990s, trying to find ways to help schizophrenic patients manage their cognitive impairments.

[Travis] Webster felt that the iPad training helped. “I started noticing that I was less anxious when I was in public,” he said. “My thoughts became less disorganized.”

Games designed to help a patient understand what they are seeing, in particular, seemed to boost his peripheral vision, increasing his awareness while driving. And his mom noticed that he responded more quickly when they talked — previously, their conversations had been punctuated by long pauses.

Still, Webster would often quit the games before he was supposed to, because he found the exercises boring. “I was supposed to do five hours a week. I ended up doing three,” he said. “With schizophrenia, it’s really common to have a lack of motivation.”

Cameron of UC Davis, who has collaborated with Vinogradov’s group, believes that the computer games industry — masters of cliff-hangers and cinematic thrills — should be able to solve that problem.

With more engaging exercises, Vinogradov’s team hopes to be able to reach young people who haven’t yet experienced full psychotic episodes. Their research already shows that individuals considered to be at high risk for psychosis respond well to the training, seeing notable benefits. While early intervention brings a risk of stigmatizing young people who are considered to be at risk, it also could mean giving them the chance to adapt to cognitive issues before they have a serious negative impact on their lives.

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