Recent Studies Indicate Brain Training May Provide New Path to Treat Mental Illness
(SAN FRANCISO) Three recently published studies add significant new evidence that brain training exercises may provide a new path for treating schizophrenia – one of the most challenging and costly forms of mental illness to treat. All three studies used brain exercises from Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ exercises and assessments.
As published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, the TRuSST Study found that a remotely-administered computerized intervention can improve social cognition in people with schizophrenia. The researchers randomized 147 patients at medical centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis into an intervention group training on game-like brain exercises from Posit Science and a control group training on computer games, such as crossword puzzles and solitaire. The study found that training on the exercises for only 28 hours over the course of 3 months significantly improved performance on standard assessments of social cognition, as compared to the control group.
Deficits in social cognition – the cognitive abilities needed to recognize social cues and to successfully interact with others – are a common symptom of schizophrenia that complicate the treatment, relationships and lives of people with schizophrenia. While there is a widely-recognized link between such deficits and poor functional outcomes and illness measures for this population, the researchers note that “no effective treatment for these deficits is applied as a standard of care.”
The researchers reported that, to their knowledge, this is the first study of online training with an active control to show improvement in social cognition, and the largest such study conducted with a remote intervention. The study did not show a significant difference in a functional performance primary measure (which did not target social cognition). However, it did show a significant improvement on a secondary functional measure, which measured the speed and accuracy of activities in a virtual environment.
“To develop these social cognition training exercises, we analyzed a tremendous amount of prior research about how the brain processes social information,” said Dr. Mor Nahum, who led the study while at Posit Science. “It turns out that social cognition requires fast and accurate brain information processing – so we developed exercises that trained the brain to process social stimuli, like faces and emotions, quickly and accurately.”
Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, added “We then realized that nearly all of us can benefit from being better in social situations – quickly and accurately reading facial expressions, recognizing people, and recalling facts about them – and decided to include several of these exercises in the commercial version of BrainHQ, under the category People Skills.”
Another study conducted in Brazil and published in Schizophrenia Bulletin compared two groups using different exercises in BrainHQ. One group did visual exercises, while the other did auditory exercises for 40 hours of training over the course of 2-4 months. The researchers found both groups improved in reasoning, problem-solving and reported symptoms, while the visual training group also improved in global cognition and attention, as compared to the auditory group.
Conference, researchers at UCLA compared the effect of using BrainHQ alone to the effect of combining the use BrainHQ with an aerobic exercise program. They found that both groups showed cognitive gains and work/school functioning gains. Intriguingly, the gains were about three times as large when aerobic exercise sessions were added, and those that actually did more of the assigned aerobic exercise showed the largest gains.
“This trio of recent studies adds nicely to dozens of prior journal articles in populations with schizophrenia using these exercises,” observed Dr. Mahncke. “Overall, they make a case that the future for schizophrenia treatment will involve pharmaceuticals in combination with evidence-based cognitive training programs. Treatment standards in schizophrenia are ripe for update – in fact, the American Psychiatric Association’s 2019 draft of new consensus clinical guidelines recommend that patients with schizophrenia receive cognitive remediation.”