An iPad game used for "brain training" may help improve memory and daily functioning in people who suffer from schizophrenia, allowing them to live independently and function better at work, according to a study published Sunday.

The game, known as ‘Wizard,’ was developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, and is aimed at improving episodic memory, which is used to remember where a car has been parked in a multi-storey complex, for example. Episodic memory is one of the aspects of cognitive function that schizophrenia affects, a list that also includes attention deficit, clouded judgment and delusions.

Wizard was designed to be an attention-grabbing and enjoyable way of helping patients improve episodic memory. The game features a memory task woven into a narrative where the player can choose their own character and name, and complete a series of tasks aimed at cognitive training. The results of the study were published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The scientists assigned 22 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia to either participate in the cognitive training group or a control group. Those in the cognitive training group played Wizard for a total of eight hours over a four-week period, while those in the control group continued their treatment as normal.

At the end of four weeks, the participants were tested to determine their episodic memory as well as their level of enjoyment and engagement, which scientists use to measure how individuals function in social and professional contexts in everyday life. 

The researchers found that the subjects in the cognitive training group saw an increase in their ability to perform episodic memory tasks, and showed a greater level of engagement and attention than those in the control group.

“We need a way of treating the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as problems with episodic memory, but slow progress is being made towards developing a drug treatment. So this proof-of-concept study is important because it demonstrates that the memory game can help where drugs have so far failed. Because the game is interesting, even those patients with a general lack of motivation are spurred on to continue the training," Barbara Sahakian of Cambridge University, the study’s lead author, said in a press release.

While the study could not pinpoint a clear causal link between the game and improvements in the participants’ behaviors, the researchers speculated that improvements in memory might have directly improved overall functioning or may have played a role in restoring participants’ motivation and self-esteem.