Schizophrenia finding could lead to therapy

New research at the University of British Columbia on the role of visual processing in schizophrenia could open the door to earlier diagnosis of the illness and potential therapies.

“(Schizophrenics) may have difficulty with the simplest tasks like crossing the street safely, reading a map or using the correct change on the bus,” said Miriam Spering, lead author of a recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“It occurred to me that many of those problems may be visual.”

Many patients struggle with simple visual tasks such as tracking a moving object in a video game and predicting its movements compared with normal subjects tested by Spering. “What we found was a bit of a surprise,” she said.

Impaired eye movement long known to be associated with the illness is not sufficient to explain the difference in performance.

Much of what we see is “constructed” by the brain, which integrates visual information from the eyes with a predictive image generated by the brain to confirm visual information, fill in gaps and process the motion of objects, she explained.

When schizophrenics fail to integrate the two images and the information in the brain conflicts with eye movements, their world is neither stable nor predictable.

Spering is optimistic that her finding will lead to a therapy to alleviate visual symptoms of schizophrenia.

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I always associated the problems people with schizophrenia have in completing tasks as being associated with the cognitive aspects of the disease. If those with schizophrenia had problems visually, many individuals with the mental disease would not be driving a car. I have been in a support group and I have encountered schizophrenics with more serious forms of the disease who drive a car.

Perhaps it has something to do with racing thoughts or even voices and other stimuli. No one can concentrate on something if they are being distracted by something else. I

I do drive and have a job. I can’t drive in the thick of rush hour, but I can adjust my work hours so I’m not in the thick of it. I do remember having the hardest time when my head circus first came to town and took all my attention. It was very hard to ignore the pulsating vision, the voices, the racing thoughts, the sore muscles from the meds, the thought interuption, the fear that everyone could hear what I was thinking, the paranoia, the delusions,…

Reading a map was the least of my worries when I was first crumbling. Now that I’m older and stabilized, many of these simple tasks have come back to me. I’m always happy to hear of new treatments and new approaches. We’ll get better everyday.