No problems booking that massage, right?
Dialing a telephone number has never been a stretch. Remembering to get those low-fat yogurt as well as the vinaigrette is a no brainer.
For sufferers of schizophrenia, though, even such simple tasks are a struggle. Those diagnosed with the disease endure a range of cognitive impairments that affect their concentration, memory and learning capacities, making day-to-day functioning extremely difficult. Although effective drug treatments have evolved for many of the more serious symptoms of the disease, there are currently no approved treatments for these simple cognitive deficits.
Thankfully though, a clinical study is currently underway in Brooklyn and beyond to test an innovative new treatment to improve these impairments.
“Cognitive deficits are very prevalent in schizophrenia,” explains Dr. Miranda Chakos, Principal Investigator at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, one of 30 sites where the study is being conducted. “And they are the strongest predictor of poor functional outcome in patients.”
What makes the study’s approach unique is that the investigational drug being used supplements a patient’s medication rather than replaces it, while the measuring of results and progress during the treatment incorporates a new evaluation tool called MATRICS (Measurement and Treatment Research to Improve Cognition in Schizophrenia).
Effective treatments have emerged in the last 20 years for the more well-known psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia (delusional thinking, auditory hallucinations and disorganized behavior), although there have been various complications involving patients’ motor coordination as well as blood-monitoring issues. Chakos explains, however, that sufferers still struggle with the basic cognitive deficits of the disease as well as other symptoms like lack of motivation and social withdrawal.
“Individuals with schizophrenia [have] had persistent cognitive disabilities that have prevented them from successfully re-entering the community,” she says.
According to Chakos, 95 percent of schizophrenia patients have meaningful impairment in at least one cognitive area. Therefore, if the study and new drug are successful, it would then potentially improve the functioning and quality of life issues for up to 95 percent of patients.
It’s these issues that are of primary concern, especially considering the stigma and misinformation about the chronic brain disease that have been perpetuated through culture and pop psychology.
“One myth is that all patients with schizophrenia are alike,” Chakos explains. “In addition to the impact of gender, there are considerable differences in age, education levels, job histories, coping skills, response to stress in general and stress in particular situations.”
The disease currently affects over three million Americans, who Chakos hopes will benefit from the new treatment as soon as possible.
“The drug is in Phase 2 clinical trials and will not be introduced to the public until data from Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials are evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” Chakos says, explaining that the study has been defined as a high priority by both the FDA and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
It may take several years before the drug will be available; but at this point the research team is primarily focused on seeking participants for the study, who qualify based on age, current antipsychotic medication, age when diagnosed and other variables.
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