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36.5: Treatment Of Schizophrenia

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    The currently available treatments for schizophrenia leave much to be desired, and the search for more effective treatments for both the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia (e.g., hallucinations and delusions) as well as cognitive deficits and negative symptoms is a highly active area of research. The first line of treatment for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders is the use of antipsychotic medications. There are two primary types of antipsychotic medications, referred to as “typical” and “atypical.” The fact that “typical” antipsychotics helped some symptoms of schizophrenia was discovered serendipitously more than 60 years ago (Carpenter & Davis, 2012; López-Muñoz et al., 2005). These are drugs that all share a common feature of being a strong block of the D2 type dopamine receptor. Although these drugs can help reduce hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech, they do little to improve cognitive deficits or negative symptoms and can be associated with distressing motor side effects. The newer generation of antipsychotics is referred to as “atypical” antipsychotics. These drugs have more mixed mechanisms of action in terms of the receptor types that they influence, though most of them also influence D2 receptors. These newer antipsychotics are not necessarily more helpful for schizophrenia but have fewer motor side effects. How- ever, many of the atypical antipsychotics are associated with side effects referred to as the “metabolic syndrome,” which includes weight gain and increased risk for cardiovascular ill- ness, type 2 diabetes, and mortality (Lieberman et al., 2005).

    The evidence that cognitive deficits also contribute to functional impairment in schizophrenia has led to an increased search for treatments that might enhance cognitive function in schizophrenia. Unfortunately, as of yet, there are no pharmacological treatments that work consistently to improve cognition in schizophrenia, although many new types of drugs are currently under exploration. However, there is a type of psychological intervention, referred to as cognitive remediation, that has shown some evidence of helping cognition and function in schizophrenia. In particular, a version of this treatment called cognitive enhancement therapy (CET) has been shown to improve cognition, functional outcome, and social cognition and to protect against gray matter loss (Eack et al., 2009; Eack, Greenwald, et al., 2010; Eack, Hogarty, et al., 2010; Eack et al., 2011; Hogarty et al., 2006) in young individuals with schizophrenia. The development of new treatments such as cognitive enhancement therapy provides some hope that we will be able to develop new and better approaches to improving the lives of individuals with this serious mental health condition and potentially even prevent it some day.


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