COMPARATIVE STUDY
JOURNAL ARTICLE

[Cognitive remediation and cognitive assistive technologies in schizophrenia]

J Sablier, E Stip, N Franck
L'Encéphale 2009, 35 (2): 160-7
19393385

BACKGROUND: Cognitive impairments are a core feature in schizophrenia. They impact several cognitive abilities but most importantly attention, memory and executive functions, consequently leading to great difficulties in everyday life. Most schizophrenia patients need assurance and require assistance and help from care workers, family members and friends. Family members taking care of a patient have additional daily work burden, and suffer psychological anguish and anxiety. Therefore, improving cognitive functions in schizophrenia patients is essential for the well-being of patients and their relatives. Reducing these deficits may decrease the economic burden to the health care system through lower numbers of hospital admissions and shorter hospitalisation periods, for example. Cognitive rehabilitation was developed to address the limited benefits of conventional treatments on cognitive deficits through the use of assistive technology as a means of enhancing memory and executive skills in schizophrenia patients.

OBJECTIVE: To provide clinicians with comprehensive knowledge on cognitive trainings, programs of remediation, and cognitive assistive technologies.

METHOD: Literature review. A search in the electronic databases (PubMed, EMBASE, Index Medicus) for recent articles in the last 10 years related to cognitive remediation published in any language using the words: cognitive and remediation or rehabilitation and schizophrenia, and a search for chapters in psychiatry and rehabilitation textbooks.

RESULTS: We found 392 articles and 112 review paper mainly in English. First, we identified cognitive remediation programs that were beneficial to schizophrenia patients. Programs available in French (IPT, RECOS, and RehaCom) and others (CET, NET, CRT, NEAR, APT and CAT) were identified. In addition, since memory and executive function impairments could be present in people without schizophrenia, we reviewed inventories of cognitive assistive technologies proven to enhance cognitive skills in other populations. Finally, we present a review of recent studies testing innovative devices developed to assist schizophrenia patients.

DISCUSSION: First, we found several cognitive programs proven to be effective with schizophrenia patients, but only three were validated in French. It could be useful to adapt other programs for French-speaking populations. Unfortunately, we found that very few of the existing cognitive assistive technologies are proposed to be used with schizophrenia patients. In fact, most of the available cognitive orthoses were tested primarily in people with neurological injuries (for example, various memory impairments caused by traumas), and in elderly illnesses (like Alzheimer disease). Devices for patients with mental deficits (e.g., mental retardation) were developed later, and only very recently explored for use in schizophrenia. As a result of an international collaboration between France and Canada, currently a tool called MOBUS is being tested. This technology aims at improving the autonomy of schizophrenia patients, by helping them plan and remember their daily activities. Furthermore, it encourages patient-caregiver communication, and permits monitoring patients' subjective reports of their symptoms. The use of cognitive assistive technologies is not meant to isolate patients by replacing the human element of relatives and caregivers by a machine. On the contrary, they offer a sense of security and they improve interpersonal relationships by permitting enhanced autonomy and greater self-confidence. Finally, a literature review of cognitive remediation in schizophrenia emphasizes the importance of a structured application of the technique in order for it to succeed. First, it is crucial to detect the impairments that will be targeted in each patient presenting a specific pattern of impairments. For this purpose, validated and customised neuropsychological tests are required. Then, cognitive remediation programs must be customised to each patient's needs in order to motivate the patient to participate. Finally, long-term effects must be assessed in order to verify whether reinforcement is needed. Following these steps, most of the studies show an improvement in the well-being of patients with schizophrenia. These recommendations are also suitable for the cognitive remediation programs, as for treatments with cognitive assistive devices. An important hurdle facing the advance of cognitive assistive technology programs is that different research groups work individually without a coordinated effort to improve and validate the existing programs.

CONCLUSION: Schizophrenia treatments must take into account not only patients' symptoms, but also the associated cognitive deficits which constitute an important factor in their social problems. It has been shown that several cognitive remediation programs are efficient in schizophrenia. New technologies complement the benefits of such programs, and support pharmacological treatments and psychotherapies.

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