Brain Patterns Explain Schizophrenic Memory Loss
> 3/14/2008 12:14:03 PM

In addition to aural hallucinations, jumbled speech patterns, compulsive behavior and alternately flat or dramatic displays of emotion, faulty memories are very common among individuals with schizophrenia. The process of retaining information seems to become jumbled in the mind of the schizophrenic, and affected individuals have trouble organizing and recalling presented information. New research reveals that much of this disability stems from the schizophrenic brain's tendency to encode information incorrectly, and this deficiency leads to a more generalized and thereby less effective use of the frontal cortex in recalling information.

This study, recently published in the free online journal PLoS (Public Library of Science) One, focuses on the brain patterns of schizophrenic individuals and their control counterparts performing rote memory tasks that consist of presenting a two sets of objects on a screen and asking patients to determine whether the location of objects in the second string were identical to those of the first. Study participants were also asked to report how confident they were in the accuracy of their answers. Unsurprisingly, schizophrenic patients did not perform as well as control subjects, often confusing the given data and responding incorrectly.

The most significant difference in the neurological processes of the schizophrenic and control patients involves the respective usage of the brain's hemispheres. The right prefrontal cortex region plays the most crucial role in data retention, and all of the study's subjects initially displayed a far higher level of activity in that area. Among schizophrenic individuals, however, patterns soon diverged from the norm: neurological activity began to spread across the hemispheres as the brain worked to process the information. The reason schizophrenic brains unnecessarily employed both hemispheres appears to be a state of malfunction in the right half; when the appropriate areas cannot correctly process the given stimuli, the brain attempts to compensate by utilizing both hemispheres, but this additional energy only complicates the process. Affected patients predictably made more "false memory" errors that highlighted another major difference between the subject pools: when healthy subjects forgot the data, they reported very little confidence in their answers, but schizophrenic subjects remained convinced that their responses were right even when their brains had not received or recalled the information correctly. This trend reflected the scattered nature of their cognitive processes rather than a misplaced sense of intelligence or self-assurance.

In order to further confirm their results, researchers ran the same tests using the less-common NIRS technique, which differs from MRI in that it does not require patients to be placed into a restrictive tube-shaped mechanism for extended periods. Researchers noted that the MRI method is particularly difficult for many schizophrenics, who can often times be anxious and claustrophobic. The severe weight gain linked to various anti-psychotic medications also prevents many patients from receiving MRI scans. NIRS, on the other hand, most often involves headgear that allows patients to remain mobile during testing. The validation of NIRS as an alternative to MRI for schizophrenic patients is, then, perhaps the most significant result of this research. Because of its greater comfort and convenience, this new method could well supplant the more common MRI as a technique for psychiatric analysis of the human brain.

Previous studies imply that persistence pays off for schizophrenic patients and the professionals who attempt to help them deal with their condition. Extensive cognitive therapy and proper memory aids and medications may, in some cases, help to calm the cacophany that overwhelms the schizophrenic brain, and "deep" learning techniques are far more effective than rote memorization in allowing individuals to consider and retain data. Most affected individuals possess the same capacity to learn and recall information as healthy counterparts, but regular treatment is the only way to counter their conditions and remove that natural intelligence from the debilitating fog of schizophrenia.

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