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Autistic symptoms represent a frequent feature in schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD). However, the prevalence and the cognitive and functional correlates of autistic symptoms in unaffected first-degree relatives of people with SSD remain to be assessed.
A total of 342 unaffected first-degree relatives related to 247 outpatients with schizophrenia were recruited as part of the multicenter study of the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses (NIRP). Autistic features were measured with the PANSS Autism Severity Scale. Three groups of participants, defined on the presence and severity of autistic symptoms, were compared on a wide array of cognitive and functional measures.
Of the total sample, 44.9% presented autistic symptoms; 22.8% showed moderate levels of autistic symptoms, which can be observed in the majority of people with SSD. Participants with higher levels of autistic symptoms showed worse performance on Working Memory (p = 0.014) and Social Cognition (p = 0.025) domains and in the Global Cognition composite score (p = 0.008), as well as worse on functional capacity (p = 0.001), global psychosocial functioning (p < 0.001), real-world interpersonal relationships (p < 0.001), participation in community activities (p = 0.017), and work skills (p = 0.006).
A high prevalence of autistic symptoms was observed in first-degree relatives of people with SSD. Autistic symptoms severity showed a negative correlation with cognitive performance and functional outcomes also in this population and may represent a diagnostic and treatment target of considerable scientific and clinical interest in both patients and their first-degree relatives.
Life engagement represents a holistic concept that encompasses outcomes reflecting life-fulfilment, well-being and participation in valued and meaningful activities, which is recently gaining attention and scientific interest. Despite its conceptual importance and its relevance, life engagement represents a largely unexplored domain in schizophrenia. The aims of the present study were to independently assess correlates and predictors of patient life engagement in a large and well-characterized sample of schizophrenia patients.
To assess the impact of different demographic, clinical, cognitive and functional parameters on life engagement in a large sample of patients with schizophrenia, data from the social cognition psychometric evaluation project were analyzed.
Overall schizophrenia and depressive symptom severity, premorbid IQ, neurocognitive performance, social cognition performance both in the emotion processing and theory of mind domains, functional capacity, social skills performance and real-world functioning in different areas all emerged as correlates of patient life engagement. Greater symptom severity and greater impairment in real-world interpersonal relationships, social skills, functional capacity and work outcomes emerged as individual predictors of greater limitations in life engagement.
Life engagement in people living with schizophrenia represents a holistic and complex construct, with several different clinical, cognitive and functional correlates. These features represent potential treatment targets to improve the clinical condition and also facilitate the process of recovery and the overall well-being of people living with schizophrenia.
Although cognitive impairment is a core symptom of schizophrenia related to poorer outcomes in different functional domains, it still remains a major therapeutic challenge. To date, no comprehensive treatment guidelines for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia are implemented.
The aim of the present guidance paper is to provide a comprehensive meta-review of the current available evidence-based treatments for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. The guidance is structured into three sections: pharmacological treatment, psychosocial interventions, and somatic treatments.
Based on the reviewed evidence, this European Psychiatric Association guidance recommends an appropriate pharmacological management as a fundamental starting point in the treatment of cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. In particular, second-generation antipsychotics are recommended for their favorable cognitive profile compared to first-generation antipsychotics, although no clear superiority of a single second-generation antipsychotic has currently been found. Anticholinergic and benzodiazepine burdens should be kept to a minimum, considering the negative impact on cognitive functioning. Among psychosocial interventions, cognitive remediation and physical exercise are recommended for the treatment of cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. Noninvasive brain stimulation techniques could be taken into account as add-on therapy.
Overall, there is definitive progress in the field, but further research is needed to develop specific treatments for cognitive impairment in schizophrenia. The dissemination of this guidance paper may promote the development of shared guidelines concerning the treatment of cognitive functions in schizophrenia, with the purpose to improve the quality of care and to achieve recovery in this population.
Acceptability is an important factor for predicting intervention use and potential treatment outcomes in psychosocial interventions. Cognitive remediation (CR) improves cognition and functioning in people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, but its acceptability, and the impact of participants and treatment characteristics, remain to be investigated. Few studies provide a direct measure of acceptability, but treatment drop-out rates are often available and represent a valid surrogate.
The systematic search conducted for the most comprehensive CR outcomes database for schizophrenia was updated in December 2020. Eligible studies were randomized clinical trials comparing CR with any other control condition in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and that also reported drop-out in treatment and control arms separately. Acceptability was measured as odd-ratios (OR) of drop-out.
Of 2119 identified reports, 151 studies, reporting 169 comparisons between CR and control interventions with 10 477 participants were included in the analyses. The overall rate of drop-out was 16.58% for CR programs and 15.21% for control conditions. In the meta-analysis, no difference emerged between CR interventions and controls [OR 1.10, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.96–1.25, p = 0.177]. Factors improving acceptability were: inpatient only recruitment, participants with fewer years of education and lower premorbid IQ, the presence of all CR core elements, and the presence of techniques to transfer cognitive gains into real-world functioning.
CR for people diagnosed with schizophrenia is effective and has a good acceptability profile, similar to that of other evidence-based psychosocial interventions.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSDs), although conceptualized as separate entities, may share some clinical and neurobiological features. ASD symptoms may have a relevant role in determining a more severe clinical presentation of schizophrenic disorder but their relationships with cognitive aspects and functional outcomes of the disease remain to be addressed in large samples of individuals.
To investigate the clinical, cognitive, and functional correlates of ASD symptoms in a large sample of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The severity of ASD symptoms was measured with the PANSS Autism Severity Scale (PAUSS) in 921 individuals recruited for the Italian Network for Research on Psychoses multicenter study. Based on the PAUSS scores, three groups of subjects were compared on a wide array of cognitive and functional measures.
Subjects with more severe ASD symptoms showed a poorer performance in the processing speed (p = 0.010), attention (p = 0.011), verbal memory (p = 0.035), and social cognition (p = 0.001) domains, and an overall lower global cognitive composite score (p = 0.010). Subjects with more severe ASD symptoms also showed poorer functional capacity (p = 0.004), real-world interpersonal relationships (p < 0.001), and participation in community-living activities (p < 0.001).
These findings strengthen the notion that ASD symptoms may have a relevant impact on different aspects of the disease, crucial to the life of people with schizophrenia. Prominent ASD symptoms may characterize a specific subpopulation of individuals with SSD.
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