Computer games helping people beat schizophrenia

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News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, June 12, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- It looks like a computer game, but in reality, it's a cutting-edge study that's working to "change the game" on schizophrenia.

"It's to find out can we retrain the brains of people with schizophrenia using computer games?" asked mental illness expert and psychiatrist Peter Buckley.

Ronald Martin is a paranoid type schizophrenic. At 40 years old, Martin has dealt with the disorder most of his adult life. He had his first psychotic break at 18 years old. He is participating in the study here in Augusta.

"They have no idea what it is to be laying there and see your cat and think your cat's trying to kill you. I know that sounds humorous, but it's not when it's happening to you," he explained.

Experts say certain medications can help with hearing and seeing things, but it doesn't address their memory, focus or attention problems. That's where these games come in.

Besides having an element of fun, the computer games tailor themselves to the player. So, as the participant gets better or faster, so does the game.

"There's like 15 identical hamsters, and they're moving all around and that helps me with my focus because focus is a real problem," Martin said as he described one of the games he played.

It's a nationwide trial. Patients are participating at 11 sites across the country, coming in four times a week for up to six months. Even though it's just in the beginning stages, it's already helping people right here in Augusta.

"It works better than anything else other than medication," Martin said.

"Their thinking, their memory and their attention might be better, and that might translate to functionality," Buckley explained.

Eventually, the study will be presented to the FDA as a way to help people fight this debilitating and frightening disorder without even having to leave their homes.

"It's something people could do in their own time, which is much more powerful than having to come and see a doctor," Buckley said.

It's a game that's bringing a whole new meaning to winning the battle on mental illness.

Of course, this would be used in conjunction with taking medication. Experts say they're excited about this new technique because it won't have the severe side effects many of the medications do.