Bolstering Reading Skills Could Improve Outcomes in Schizophrenia

Bolstering Reading Skills Could Improve Outcomes in Schizophrenia

Posted: September 18, 2014

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As part of their illness, people with schizophrenia develop problems with cognition—thinking processes like memory, learning and understanding. This extends to reading skills, according to a study published September 1st in The American Journal of Psychiatry. Led by Foundation Scientific Council Member and two-time NARSAD Grantee Daniel Javitt, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University, the study reports that more than 70 percent of participants with schizophrenia had dyslexia, and 50 percent read below eighth grade levels, despite finishing higher levels of school. The study suggests that bolstering reading skills could help people with schizophrenia achieve higher levels of education or occupation.

Literacy is a core requirement for getting along in the developed world, and good readers tend to earn more than poor readers do. But reading depends on the brain’s ability to make sense of visual and auditory stimuli—processes that Dr. Javitt and colleagues had previously found to be disrupted in schizophrenia. Yet earlier studies had paradoxically suggested reading skills remained intact in schizophrenia, at least when tested with a one-word task that indicates the kind of reading material someone has experienced in the past.

The new study, which also included former NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees Pamela D. Butler, Ph.D., Cheryl Corcoran, M.D., and Antigona Martinez, Ph.D., focused on reading aloud whole passages, which requires a person to put together words and their meaning on the spot. This revealed severe problems in the group of patients with schizophrenia when compared to “healthy control subjects” of similar age.

Their performance on the one-word recognition task remained normal, leading the researchers to suggest that reading skills erode around the time of illness. This interpretation was reinforced by findings in a second group of study subjects—people who were exhibiting some symptoms of a psychotic disorder that had not risen to the level of a diagnosis of schizophrenia. These people had some difficulties in reading but were much closer to the control subjects in their reading abilities.

The results suggest that remedying this decline could help people with schizophrenia overcome the difficulties they have with living independently.

Read the abstract of this research paper.

Read more about this research in the Schizophrenia Research Forum.