Researchers design new test to determine cognitive capacities of schizophrenia patients

Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), in collaboration with the University of Oviedo and the Biomedical Research Networking Centre in Mental Health (CIBERSAM), have designed a test which can help determine the cognitive capacities of patients with schizophrenia. The test consists of a battery of assessments chosen by the researchers which permits them, in 20 minutes or less depending on the case, to examine patients' short-term memory capacities, mental agility and also organizational capacities.

The research, which forms part of the doctoral thesis of  Sílvia Zaragoza Domingo, is the result of a pioneering study lasting 6 months in which 257 professionals worked with a sample of 700 individuals representative of the population diagnosed with schizophrenia in Spain. The study, which goes by the name of EPICOG-SCH, identified a battery of four assessments in order to conduct the test.

One of the main novelties of the battery of assessments chosen by researchers and led by Silvia Zaragoza lies in the fact that, in addition to being short, they consist in tests available to doctors and psychologists experts in mental health. Moreover, the tests are available in several languages, which makes it easier to use them with patients of different origins. Another advantage is that they are easy to administer, and therefore facilitates being used by health professionals in order to assess patients with schizophrenia. The test permits health professionals to assess, study and comment on symptoms of the disorder which normally are not taken into account and which could serve to treat each case in the best possible manner.

"In schizophrenia, it is desirable for the patient to be as independent and function as best possible, although that does not always happen", explains Sílvia Zaragoza. She goes on to say that "this test allows each patient to better adapt to his life. For example, if a patient is slower mentally, but short-term memory is not affected, he or she will have more chances of leading an independent life than someone whose memory is also affected".

This battery of assessments represents a very important step towards offering patients specific examinations, which can be conducted through their regular mental health centres or private centres. After an initial examination, the clinics can also conduct a follow-up of patients and also confirm whether changes in medications worsen attention span or memory, a common complaint among patients at their routine visits.

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