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Cognitive training (CT) and aerobic exercise both show promising moderate impact on cognition and everyday functioning in schizophrenia. Aerobic exercise is hypothesized to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and thereby synaptic plasticity, leading to increased learning capacity. Systematic CT should take advantage of increased learning capacity and be more effective when combined with aerobic exercise.
We examined the impact of a 6-month program of cognitive training & exercise (CT&E) compared to cognitive training alone (CT) in 47 first-episode schizophrenia outpatients. All participants were provided the same Posit Science computerized CT, 4 h/week, using BrainHQ and SocialVille programs. The CT&E group also participated in total body circuit training exercises to enhance aerobic conditioning. Clinic and home-based exercise were combined for a target of 150 min per week.
The MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery Overall Composite improved significantly more with CT&E than with CT alone (p = 0.04), particularly in the first 3 months (6.5 v. 2.2 T-score points, p < 0.02). Work/school functioning improved substantially more with CT&E than with CT alone by 6 months (p < 0.001). BDNF gain tended to predict the amount of cognitive gain but did not reach significance. The cognitive gain by 3 months predicted the amount of work/school functioning improvement at 6 months. The amount of exercise completed was strongly associated with the degree of cognitive and work/school functioning improvement.
Aerobic exercise significantly enhances the impact of CT on cognition and functional outcome in first-episode schizophrenia, apparently driven by the amount of exercise completed.
Cognitive deficits at the first episode of schizophrenia are predictive of functional outcome. Interventions that improve cognitive functioning early in schizophrenia are critical if we hope to prevent or limit long-term disability in this disorder.
We completed a 12-month randomized controlled trial of cognitive remediation and of long-acting injectable (LAI) risperidone with 60 patients with a recent first episode of schizophrenia. Cognitive remediation involved programs focused on basic cognitive processes as well as more complex, life-like situations. Healthy behavior training of equal treatment time was the comparison group for cognitive remediation, while oral risperidone was the comparator for LAI risperidone in a 2 × 2 design. All patients were provided supported employment/education to encourage return to work or school.
Both antipsychotic medication adherence and cognitive remediation contributed to cognitive improvement. Cognitive remediation was superior to healthy behavior training in the LAI medication condition but not the oral medication condition. Cognitive remediation was also superior when medication adherence and protocol completion were covaried. Both LAI antipsychotic medication and cognitive remediation led to significantly greater improvement in work/school functioning. Effect sizes were larger than in most prior studies of first-episode patients. In addition, cognitive improvement was significantly correlated with work/school functional improvement.
These results indicate that consistent antipsychotic medication adherence and cognitive remediation can significantly improve core cognitive deficits in the initial period of schizophrenia. When combined with supported employment/education, cognitive remediation and LAI antipsychotic medication show separate significant impact on improving work/school functioning.
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