Auditory Performance Tests Help Identify Relatives at Risk for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that is considered neurocognitive in nature. The neurological impairment of someone with schizophrenia is manifested through auditory and visual hallucinations, working memory deficits, executive control impairments, and other symptoms that significantly impact overall quality of life. Family members of a client with schizophrenia are more likely to develop the condition than those with no family history. But understanding how this risk factor appears in individuals of different ages and risk levels is not clearly understood.

To address this question, Larry J. Seidman of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts recently led a study designed to test a new tool in identifying executive control impairment in those at risk for schizophrenia. The Auditory Continuous Performance Tests (ACPTs) were administered in two separate studies involving individuals with schizophrenia and their family members. The first study evaluated adults through age 75 while the second study evaluated only adolescents and young adults under the age of 25. The first study revealed that the individuals with schizophrenia performed the poorest on all tasks, followed closely by relatives and then by control participants. This was especially pronounced on working memory tasks.

In the second study, Seidman found that the young adults with schizophrenia performed the worst on all tasks, followed by their family members. The most difficult tasks for these participants were the interference tasks, followed by the memory and then vigilance task. But again, in the second study, working memory deficits were clearly evident in those with schizophrenia and their family members. Seidman believes that the results of these studies clearly demonstrate the need for novel approaches in schizophrenia research and treatment. Specific attention should be given to individual factors such as working memory and visual performance tasks in order to isolate those most at risk for schizophrenia and identify other conditions that may be present, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Seidman added, “It remains important to determine the relationships among these tasks and functional outcome, symptoms, and other clinical features in relatives and patients with schizophrenia.”

Seidman, L. J., Juiliano, A. J., Goldstein, J. M., Thermenos, H. W., Stone, W. S., Meyer, E. C., et al. (2012). Auditory working memory impairments in individuals at familial high risk for schizophrenia. Neuropsychology 26.3, 288-303.

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  • Faye


    July 4th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    I am sure that many of these family members submitted to the testing with a desire to know if they were at risk of developing the disease too. But would I really want to know? I am so torn. It would be so difficult to watch your family member suffering with this and then to find out that you were at risk for the same sort of fate. That might be a pill a little too hard to swallow for many of us.

  • Sammi


    July 4th, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    I am guessing that since schizophrenic patients usually experience hallucinations autorially too that this is why this kind of testing would be relevant?

  • Meredith


    July 5th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Kind of astounding that even for family members of those with this illness have their own health affected just by being related to the patient. I guess that this is something that they carry even though they may not necessarily have the disease. Having your memory function impacted can be scary even if you don’t have the chance of developing full blown schizophrenia. Your memory is something that you rely so heavily on and to know that it can be limited by carrying the genetic markings for the disease is pretty frightening.

  • bate


    July 5th, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    the consistency observed in the effects in family members should be used as a shows that family members are more vulnerable and so along with treatment of the affected individual,maybe the family members could be given precautionary measures?

  • thomas


    July 5th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    schizophrenia is one of those sad diseases that just takes someone away from you and you know that you can never have them back the way they used to be

  • alice b

    alice b

    July 6th, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    the best way to control any disorder is to go to the roots,to identify those at risk and prevent the disorder’s onset.and I believe we are doing a great job at this with schizophrenia.

  • Mark


    July 9th, 2012 at 4:11 AM

    I sure do hope that the people submitting to the testing are givem follow up care in case the results show that they too could be at greater risk of developing the disease.

    It would be pretty awful to be given this kind of news and then sent on your way to process it on your own.

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