Schizophrenia: Cognitive performance may be improved by brain stimulation

SchizophreniaFor the first time, researchers at King’s College London have studied the impact of electrical stimulation — a technique currently used to treat depression — on cognitive deficits typically associated with schizophrenia. The research, published in the journal Brain, show an improvement in cognitive performance after 24 hours.

Brain stimulation using electrodes could improve the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia patients, according to a study from King’s College London, UK, on 28 patients.

Brain stimulation, or tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), consists of sending an electrical current through the brain via two electrodes applied to the scalp. For the needs of the study, stimulation was applied to the left frontal cortex, associated with cognitive functions such as language, working memory, reasoning and executive functions.

The results showed that patients who received 30 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation showed improved performances when carrying out tasks linked to working memory, fixing objectives or planning actions. However, positive changes in the brain — including in the cerebellum, a part of the brain increasingly recognized as essential to learning — were only observed after 24 hours.

Previous research has shown that electrical stimulation of the brain can improve “brain plasticity,” making brain cells more receptive to learning.

Other recent research from the USA has focused on strategies to reduce symptoms, including at cognitive level. In April 2016, researchers at UCLA found that taking art in physical exercise, as soon as the first symptoms appear, was an effective means of reducing the impact of schizophrenia and improving the cognitive abilities of patients.

Certain vitamins could also play a protective role. B vitamins (B6, B8 and B12), administered in high doses, were found to be effective in reducing symptoms — particularly in early stages of the disease — when used to support the usual antipsychotic treatments, according to research published in February in Psychological Medicine.

Moreover, omega-3 supplements have been proven to markedly reduce the risk of developing schizophrenia in young people at risk, and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased depressive symptoms in patients.