On 15 December 2011, SRF hosted a Webinar event co-sponsored by the International Congress on Schizophrenia Research and moderated by Angus MacDonald III of the University of Minnesota. The presenters—Alice Medalia of Columbia University, Sophia Vinogradov of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Morris Bell of Yale University—gave brief slide presentations and participated in a panel discussion.
One of the most exciting developments in the treatment of schizophrenia in the past decade has been the rise of cognitive remediation. Cognitive remediation refers to a collection of approaches that share the goal of strengthening patients’ capacity to think. In this, it is distinct from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which emphasizes interpretations of experience. Cognitive remediation has grown in popularity largely because problems with thinking are a prominent aspect of the disorder, yet these symptoms are largely not addressed by available pharmaceuticals. Cognitive remediation is non-pharmacological, but it does affect the brain. Building on evidence from stroke, normal aging, and animal models, cognitive remediation is designed to leverage the brain’s own plasticity to build capacity. Several popular approaches to cognitive remediation emphasize drill and practice, in particular, the use of computer tasks to provide immediate feedback and adapt to people’s current abilities.
While a growing database suggests the promise of such techniques, the proverbial cognitive remediation jury is out. One of the reasons for this is that most studies have been of a limited scale; many are only beginning to incorporate double-blind, placebo-controlled designs and long-term follow-up. In this Webinar, we will address the question, What is the latest knowledge about the internal validity of cognitive remediation experiments?
Another challenge to cognitive remediation is generalization. While it is clear that patients can improve on the tasks for which they train, to what extent does training in one domain extend to other domains, and, most importantly, to functioning in life? Furthermore, how long should the effects of training endure?
Given the plurality of approaches, are we closer to knowing which are most effective from a cost-benefit standpoint? Do these various approaches affect brain systems differently? And is it possible to know beforehand who will have a positive response to the treatment?
Finally, and crucially, what are the vital questions that still need to be addressed, technologies that need to be developed, or policies that need to be implemented before cognitive remediation can become part of the comprehensive care for patients with schizophrenia?
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