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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.
During the past two decades, it has been amply documented that neuropsychiatric disorders (NPDs) disproportionately account for burden of illness attributable to chronic non-communicable medical disorders globally. It is also likely that human capital costs attributable to NPDs will disproportionately increase as a consequence of population aging and beneficial risk factor modification of other common and chronic medical disorders (e.g., cardiovascular disease). Notwithstanding the availability of multiple modalities of antidepressant treatment, relatively few studies in psychiatry have primarily sought to determine whether improving cognitive function in MDD improves patient reported outcomes (PROs) and/or is cost effective. The mediational relevance of cognition in MDD potentially extrapolates to all NPDs, indicating that screening for, measuring, preventing, and treating cognitive deficits in psychiatry is not only a primary therapeutic target, but also should be conceptualized as a transdiagnostic domain to be considered regardless of patient age and/or differential diagnosis.
With the increasing enthusiasm to provide cognitive remediation (CR) as an evidence-based practice, questions arise as to what is involved in implementing CR in a large system of care. This article describes the first statewide implementation of CR in the USA, with the goal of documenting the implementation issues that care providers are likely to face when bringing CR services to their patients.
In 2014, the New York State Office of Mental Health set up a Cognitive Health Service that could be implemented throughout the state-operated system of care. This service was intended to broadly address cognitive health, to assure that the cognitive deficits commonly associated with psychiatric illnesses are recognized and addressed, and that cognitive health is embedded in the vocabulary of wellness. It involved creating a mechanism to train staff to recognize how cognitive health could be prioritized in treatment planning as well as implementing CR in state-operated adult outpatient psychiatry clinics.
By 2017, CR was available at clinics serving people with serious mental illness in 13 of 16 adult Psychiatric Centers, located in rural and urban settings throughout New York state. The embedded quality assurance program evaluation tools indicated that CR was acceptable, sustainable, and effective.
Cognitive remediation can be feasibly implemented in large systems of care that provide a multilevel system of supports, a training program that educates broadly about cognitive health and specifically about the delivery of CR, and embedded, ongoing program evaluation that is linked to staff supervision.
While second-generation antipsychotics treat negative as well as positive symptoms, recovery for persons with schizophrenia remains elusive, in part because there are no FDA-approved medications that treat the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia (CDS). Recent work has identified agents that, when added to antipsychotics, improve cognition in schizophrenia. This work and hypothesized mechanisms of action will be reviewed.
Cognitive deficits are a prominent and enduring aspect of schizophrenia, which pose a significant barrier to achieving functional goals. The most promising intervention for treating cognitive impairment is cognitive remediation (CR), a behaviorally based therapy associated with medium effect sizes for cognitive and functional outcomes. However, there is a sizeable group of nonresponders whose CR outcomes become limited when the therapeutic approach fails to address individual differences in baseline cognition, motivation variables, and the extent to which CR offers opportunities for generalization. This speaks to a need to develop cognitive interventions that are both personalized and scalable. Emerging data suggest that specific pharmacological agents have the potential to enhance and accelerate behaviorally based CR effects. This article will review the rationale and preliminary evidence to support combining CR and pharmacotherapy. We will review crucial aspects of cognitive interventions that offer the most promise for improving not only cognitive outcomes, but also for enhancing improvement in real-world functioning. Finally, we will address methodological issues to be considered for future research on combined pharmacological and CR interventions.
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