Researchers from King’s and the University of Roehampton are developing innovative ways to help people with schizophrenia, and who don’t respond to medication, learn to control their symptoms.
In a pilot study, 12 patients who experienced verbal hallucinations – the voices that 70 per cent of people with schizophrenia hear – trained themselves to control neural activity in brain regions linked to speech and language. These regions are hyperactive in people with schizophrenia who experience verbal hallucinations.
Our study has shown that people with schizophrenia can learn some sort of mental strategy to help their symptoms – something which several years of medication has not helped with.’
Dr Natasza Orlov, Department of Psychosis Studies.
When patients were in an MRI scanner, activity in the speech-sensitive brain regions were represented by a computer space rocket which the patients could actively monitor. Without any instructions the patients were asked to try and bring the rocket down to earth, corresponding to a reduction in brain activity.
After a few sessions in the MRI scanner, almost all the patients successfully came up with strategies to control the space rocket.
‘We encouraged our patients to use the same control strategies that they learnt in the MRI scanner at home,’ said lead researcher Dr Natasha Orlov from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience.
‘The patients know when the voices are about to start – they can feel it, so we want them to immediately put this aid into effect to lessen them.’
Patients who took part in the study reported that the training helped them calm their verbal hallucinations, and consider the voices as internal rather than coming from outside.
While promising, the research team say the technique needs testing in a larger group of people.
Co-author Professor Sukhi Shergill said ‘unfortunately we don’t have effective treatments for all of the people with schizophrenia who hear voices and it’s great that this innovative research offers a novel approach to help patients.’
For more details, visit the King’s College London website.