Auditory verbal hallucinations (AVHs), the most notable symptom of schizophrenia, involve hearing a voice that is not actually present. Highly distressing for patients, AVHs are a common occurrence in psychotic disorders. Given the failure of one in three patients to respond to the standard treatments, these voices can become harrowing and tormenting with time. However, as per a pilot study, playing a video game can help patients stop hearing voices in their head.
According to the research, patients can learn effective mental strategies that can help in improving the symptoms. Conducted by researchers from the King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and the University of Roehampton, the study helped patients of schizophrenia train themselves to control verbal hallucinations using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner and a computer game. The patients were able to diminish the control of hallucinations over their daily life using these techniques.
Reducing neural activity by playing a video game
The above-mentioned small proof-of-concept study used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to provide a real-time analysis of brain activity based on the changes in the blood flow in the brain. The fMRI result was then associated with a computer game that involved the task of landing a rocket. During the study, the participants were asked to play the above video game while undergoing an MRI scan. During this time, they were also asked to use various mental strategies to move the computerized rocket. The goal of the game was to land the rocket on the planet Earth.
During the game, an overdrive of the superior temporal gyrus, part of the brain that responds to speech and human voices, would make the rocket soar into the air and less activity would make the rocket fly back to the planet Earth. Though the participants were not given any specific instructions on how to land the rocket, after using the machine more than four times, the patients were able to reduce their neural activity with the help of the video game.
After playing the game, no deterioration was observed in auditory hallucinations. The researchers also observed a detectable decrease in brain activity in the speech-perceiving regions. According to the researchers, as the game involved reducing the activity in the part of the brain associated with speech perception, it would also enable the patients to learn lasting strategies to tune down external voices. This would further help them in reducing verbal hallucinations.
A promising study in need of further investigations
According to the researchers, playing the game helped train the patients of schizophrenia control part of the brain linked to verbal hallucinations. While the study proposes a new approach to ease the symptoms, it can prove to be extremely helpful for patients who do not respond to medications. However, as the study involved a small sample size and did not use a control group, the researchers now plan to carry out a larger randomized controlled trial to further investigate the treatment.
Though the study showed some promising initial findings for a new way to manage auditory hallucinations, it is too early to tell if the interventions used in the study would ever be part of a clinical practice in the future.
Treating schizophrenia effectively
Schizophrenia, a serious and potentially disabling mental disorder, affects an estimated less than 1 percent of the adult American population. Although there is no complete cure for schizophrenia, its treatment is focused on reducing the symptoms and decreasing the chances of a relapse. Treatment at residential treatment centers for schizophrenia may involve medications, psychotherapy, psychosocial treatments and other therapies.
Sovereign Health of Florida, a leading behavioral treatment provider, offers top-notch treatment for a host of mental disorders, including schizophrenia. For more information on treatment options available for schizophrenia at Sovereign Health of Florida or to locate our schizophrenia treatment facilities, call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with our representatives.
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