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The development of a computer-assisted cognitive remediation program for patients with schizophrenia.

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VA Capitol Health Care Network MIRECC, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


In the last decade, impairments in several cognitive domains have been recognized as a central feature of schizophrenia. Consistent evidence has accumulated that documents the contribution of these deficits to poor outcome in social and occupational functioning, and thus they are important targets for psychosocial as well as pharmacological intervention. After reviewing the literature on cognitive remediation for brain injury as well as schizophrenia patients, consulting with research groups which have implemented cognitive remediation programs for schizophrenia, and conducting pilot work with patients, our group has developed a broadly-targeted computer-based remediation intervention that is based on using exercises that engage several cognitive capacities simultaneously, teaching of a set of cognitive strategies by a supportive therapist in a one-on-one setting, and addressing many of the treatment issues that are specific to schizophrenia. The strategies that are emphasized in the intervention are derived from the learning and remediation literatures and include the following: 1) Verbalization to enhance encoding and recall of stimuli; 2) Breaking problems down to promote organized problem solving; 3) Articulation of problem solving to encourage deliberate responding and self-monitoring; 4) Self-checking of performance and adjustment as necessary; 5) Strategic probe questions to prompt participants to monitor their work and make planful responses; 6) Scaffolding aids to provide ongoing support as needed. We are currently conducting a randomized trial of the intervention in which patients complete 24 sessions of remediation or an equivalent number of sessions with a therapist using computer games that have minimal cognitive demand. Our initial experience with the intervention is encouraging and suggests that it is feasible, the tasks are extremely well-received and patients are willing to come to the clinic several times per week to work on them. It is premature to assess whether participation in cognitive remediation is effective in improving cognition, but patients have thus far demonstrated improvement on trained computer exercises. The potential of psychosocial and pharmacological interventions, alone and in combination, for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia is a promising research issue.

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