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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