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New treatment offers schizophrenics hope of memory recovery

A researcher at Australia’s Monash University says she has found a way to treat the debilitating effects of memory loss caused by schizophrenia.

After stimulation of specific parts of the brains with a low-dose electrical current, patients chronically ill with schizophrenia could recall information with more accuracy than they could without the treatment, Dr Kate Hoy, from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre (MAPrc), in Melbourne, says.

About 80% of people with schizophrenia suffer some kind of cognitive impairment including problems with memory, attention, problem-solving, decision-making and planning. “These impairments can be considerable and can make life much harder,” Hoy says.

Hoy says the typical pattern of memory loss in schizophrenics is for it to affect short-term and “working” memory, leaving long-term memory unimpaired.

For people with working-memory impairment, holding down a job or even conducting a conversation is a challenge. “It’s really difficult to hold information in your mind and manipulate it, which is what you do when you converse with people,” says Hoy.

Brain stimulation pioneer Professor Paul Fitzgerald, who is head of the Psychiatric Neurotechnology Division of MAPrc, says Dr Hoy’s findings are significant because they target a part of the brain’s function that other forms of treatment have failed to address. “So in that context there is a very large unmet treatment need,” he says.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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