Mobile app may help schizophrenics tame the wild voices in their heads

Biofeedback system that fits in a pocket can help train patients to ignore phantom voices

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"When neurons become activated by inner voices it inhibits perception of outside speech. The neurons become ‘preoccupied’ and can’t ‘process’ voices from the outside…this may explain why schizophrenic patients close themselves off so completely and lose touch with the outside world when experiencing hallucinations." – Kenneth Hugdahl.

Non-schizophrenics hear voices, too – scraps of music stuck in our heads, random noises interpreted as human voices, the mistaken conviction someone has called your name.

The frontal lobes of schizophrenics don't function quite right, reducing their ability to tune out or ignore the phenomenon or realize that the "voices" are random noises, not orders from an unseen speaker.

Some researchers have found biofeedback methods to be effective in teaching schizophrenics to identify real voices from unreal, allowing them to ignore the random stimulus in order to focus on voices of people who are actually present or interactions with people that are not hallucinations, Hugdahl wrote.

Even some ill enough for full-time hospitalization have found biofeedback systems can teach schizophrenics to filter their voices effectively.

Systems that rely on artificial stimulation of specific muscles, EEGs that show different brain patterns for hallucinations than for real sounds are effective but ungainly.

Hugdahl's team is working on a mobile application that uses biofeedback to play a different voice in each ear simultaneously so the patient can practice distinguishing between the two and paying attention to only one.

The technique isn't proven but does show promise, at least in helping schizophrenics distinguish between real stimuli and fake and to pay attention to the correct one.

"The voices are still there, but the test subjects feel that they have control over the voices instead of the other way around. The patient feels it is a breakthrough since it means he can actively shift his focus from the inner voices over to the sounds coming from the outside," Hugdahl wrote.

The good news is that schizophrenics with experience trying to pay attention to the real world while false voices try to distract them shouldn't find any radically new level of frustration dealing with voices on a mobile computer that may speak compellingly at a million miles per hour, but can always be turned off when the users is looking for a little peace and quiet.

Photo Credit: 

Kenneth Hugdahl

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