Researchers have developed a smartphone ‘brain training’ game that may improve the memory and daily functioning of patients with schizophrenia, helping them live independent lives.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of psychological symptoms, ranging from changes in behaviour through to hallucinations and delusions.

A team of researchers led by Professor Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at University of Cambridge has developed and tested Wizard, an iPad game aimed at improving an individual’s episodic memory.

Episodic memory is the type of memory required when you have to remember where you parked your car in a multi-storey car park after going shopping for several hours or where you left your keys in home several hours ago, for example.

It is one of the facets of cognitive functioning to be affected in patients with schizophrenia.

The game, Wizard, was the result of a nine-month collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game-developer and people with schizophrenia.

It was intended to be fun, attention-grabbing, motivating and easy to understand, while at the same time improving the player’s episodic memory.

The memory task was woven into a narrative in which the player was allowed to choose their own character and name; the game rewarded progress with additional in-game activities to provide the user with a sense of progression independent of the cognitive training process.

The researchers assigned twenty-two participants, who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, to either the cognitive training group or a control group at random.

Participants in the training group played the memory game for a total of eight hours over a four-week period; participants in the control group continued their treatment as usual.

At the end of the four weeks, the researchers tested all participants’ episodic memory using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) PAL, as well as their level of enjoyment and motivation, and their score on the Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scale, which doctors use to rate the social, occupational, and psychological functioning of adults.

Sahakian and colleagues found that the patients who had played the memory game made significantly fewer errors and needed significantly fewer attempts to remember the location of different patterns in the CANTAB PAL test relative to the control group.

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