A high-tech computer game is being tested to find out if it holds potential as a remedy for people experiencing hallucinations, especially among schizophrenic patients. Should these intriguing conclusions be medically verified, it could introduce a new fun alternative to conventional psychiatric therapies. Scores of research have already suggested that while current treatment plans for schizophrenia are able to manage symptoms, the medications do little to control hallucinations. Mental health practitioners have said that only a third of patients respond to medications.
Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental disorder that is characterized by a patient being unable to perceive reality correctly. One of the more common symptoms of the disease is verbal hallucination which is when patients see things that are not there.
The technology makes use of scanning devices which observe a crucial part of the brain, which goes into hyper-mode when patients are experiencing verbal hallucinations. The scientists do this through a “neurofeedback” technique.
"Our study has shown that people with schizophrenia can learn some sort of mental strategy to help their symptoms something which several years of medication has not helped with. Although the study sample size is small and we lacked a control group, these results are promising. We are now planning to conduct a randomized controlled study to test this technique in a larger sample," researcher Dr. Natasza Orlov from King’s College London said.
The technology controls neural activity by asking the patients to land a computerized space rocket back to earth.
For his part, Professor Paul Allen from the University of Roehampton said: “The results of this pilot are astonishing as almost everyone in the patient group was able to control the space rocket, successfully bringing the rocket in the game back to the ground.
"What this means is that by using this technique, patients learn to control brain activity in the area of the brain that responds to voices – an area we know is hyperactive in people who experience auditory verbal hallucinations. These are still early days in our research, however, patients who took part in the pilot study have told us that the training has helped them to calm their external voices down, so that they were able to determine internalize them more.”
The experiment was deemed to be success as patients were able to reduce neural activity in the speech sensitive region of the brain after just four visits.