Researchers at the University of Cambridge said slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment and the game, called Wizard, can help where drugs have so far failed.
The game has been found to improve the memory of patients with schizophrenia, helping them in their daily lives at work and to live independently.
Episodic memory – the type of memory required to remember where you parked your car or where you left your keys – is one of the facets of cognitive functioning to be affected in patients with schizophrenia and there are as yet no licensed pharmaceutical treatments to improve it.
Schizophrenia is estimated to cost £13.1bn a year in the UK, researchers said, so even small improvements in cognitive functions could substantially reduce direct and indirect costs by helping patients live more independently as well as improve their well-being and health.
The game was the result of a nine-month collaboration between psychologists, neuroscientists, a professional game-developer and patients with schizophrenia.
Participants played the memory game for a total of eight hours over a four-week period while a control group continued their treatment as usual.
Afterwards, researchers tested all the 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.
They found 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, along with an increase in their score on the GAF scale.
Professor Peter Jones, from the university’s Department of Psychiatry, said: “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 minimise the impact of their illness on everyday life.”
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