Researchers Use Simple Game to Understand Eye Movement Impairments in Schizophrenia Patients

Researchers from the University of B.C. are using a simple game to find new ways to treat symptoms of schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Miriam Spering, an assistant professor in the department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of B.C., led research to determine the disconnect between vision and the information the brain collects to solve problems.

"There is a lot of potential," said lead author Miriam Spering, an assistant professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "I think we are some years away from actually making this a standard therapy, but it could become a tool.”

In a study published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience, Spering tested 15 patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and 16 control patients who had no history of the mental illness. The researchers had the test subjects play a video game called "eye soccer" to test eye movements.

Participants watched a ball move across the screen at a constant speed toward a stationary line. After either tracking the ball smoothly or fixating on the line, the participants were asked to judge whether the ball would have hit or missed the line. The goal of the experiment was to test participants'' ability to predict the trajectory of the ball.

Researchers found that schizophrenia patients has a hard time tracking the moving object and predicting its trajectory. Researchers call this a "broken connection" between what schizophrenia patients see and how their brains interpret that information.

Schizophrenia makes it harder for sufferers to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, relate to others, and causes patients to experience hallucinations and delusions.

Spering said that her research shows that eye movement impairment is the cause of symptoms that make it hard for schizophrenia patients to carry out simple daily tasks. The eye impairment could also be connected to some of the psychotic symptoms schizophrenia patients experience, like hallucinations.

Spering hopes to develop a mobile app in the future that allows patients to practice eye movement skills that will eventually lead to improvements in their ability to carry out daily tasks. Spering is also applying her research to Parkinson’s patients, who have the same eye movement impairment.

Source: The Province

"Human brain work metaphor," © 2013 Shutterstock.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone