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Schizophrenia Patients Often Forget Drugs

Memory Lapses May Cause Patients to Forget Medication

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Aug. 13, 2003 -- Schizophrenia medication can change a person's life, but getting people with schizophrenia to stick to their medication can be a challenge. A new study shows the problem is not with medication; it's with the person's ability to remember when to take it.

People with schizophrenia are faced with daily hallucinations and delusions, which greatly interfere with daily life. But schizophrenia medication can all but get rid of these symptoms -- and help get someone with this disabling disease back on track.

But once schizophrenia medication does its thing, the person often stops taking the medication because the symptoms are so much better. And now, according to a study published in the latest issue of BMC Psychiatry, researchers have discovered that the reason may be their memory.

Simple Memory Tasks Difficult

Habitual tasks such as taking medicine every few hours rely on "prospective memory," researchers say. This type of memory enables you to remember that you have to do something in the future, without being reminded. This is also the type of memory function that appears to be impaired by schizophrenia, therefore making it harder for these patients to remember simple things.

For this study, researchers compared the memory of people with and without schizophrenia. In a series of 10 tests, researchers asked the volunteers to move a ball around an obstacle course and also asked participants to remember to turn over a poker chip once during each game.

When the test was over, researchers found that patients with schizophrenia were less likely to remember to turn over the chips compared with the people without it. In fact, approximately one third of patients with schizophrenia said they had remembered to turn the chip over when in reality they hadn't. Schizophrenia causes people to confuse reality with imagined events.

Researchers say this sends up a red flag. It's worrisome that so many people with schizophrenia were unable to perform this simple task that posed few problems for the comparison group, according to the researchers.

They add that patients' self-reports of having completed a habitual prospective memory task -- for example, taking medication -- are likely to be particularly unreliable.

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