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Study: One-week brain training can increase cognitive flexibility and reduce OCD symptoms

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OCD symp­toms could be reduced with ‘brain-train­ing’ app, study says (UPI):

Peo­ple with obses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der could man­age their symp­toms, includ­ing exces­sive hand­wash­ing and con­t­a­m­i­na­tion fears, by using a “brain train­ing” app, accord­ing to its devel­op­ers.

Researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge in Britain, who test­ed the smart­phone app on peo­ple with­out the dis­or­der but had strong con­t­a­m­i­na­tion fears, found one week of train­ing can lead to sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments of OCD symp­toms.

This tech­nol­o­gy will allow peo­ple to gain help at any time with­in the envi­ron­ment where they live or work, rather than hav­ing to wait for appoint­ments,” Dr. Bar­bara Sahakian from Cambridge’s Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try said in a press release. “The use of smart­phone videos allows the treat­ment to be per­son­al­ized to the indi­vid­ual” …

The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion has list­ed OCD as one of the top 20 caus­es of ill­ness-relat­ed dis­abil­i­ty for indi­vid­u­als between 15 and 44 years of age … Aside from seri­ous impacts on the lives of peo­ple with OCD, includ­ing men­tal health, rela­tion­ships and the abil­i­ty to hold down a job, exces­sive wash­ing can be harm­ful phys­i­cal­ly because of the high use of sur­face cleansers or even bleach to clean hands.”

The Study:

Nov­el Smart­phone Inter­ven­tions Improve Cog­ni­tive Flex­i­bil­i­ty and Obses­sive-Com­pul­sive Dis­or­der Symp­toms in Indi­vid­u­als with Con­t­a­m­i­na­tion Fears (Sci­en­tif­ic Reports):

Abstract: One type of obsessive–compulsive dis­or­der (OCD) is char­ac­ter­ized by con­t­a­m­i­na­tion fears and com­pul­sive cleans­ing. Few effec­tive treat­ments are avail­able for this debil­i­tat­ing con­di­tion. Com­pul­sive symp­toms, such as exces­sive wash­ing, are believed to be medi­at­ed by cog­ni­tive inflexibility—arguably the most strik­ing cog­ni­tive impair­ment in OCD. In this study, we inves­ti­gat­ed the effects of two nov­el smart­phone inter­ven­tions on cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty and OCD symp­toms in healthy indi­vid­u­als with OCD-like con­t­a­m­i­na­tion fears. In the first inter­ven­tion, par­tic­i­pants watched a brief video record­ing of them­selves engag­ing in hand­wash­ing on a smart­phone, four times a day, for a total of one week (N=?31). The sec­ond inter­ven­tion was sim­i­lar except that par­tic­i­pants watched them­selves repeat­ed­ly touch­ing a dis­gust-induc­ing object (N=?31). In a third (con­trol) “inter­ven­tion”, par­tic­i­pants watched them­selves per­form­ing sequen­tial hand move­ments (N=?31). As hypoth­e­sized, the two smart­phone inter­ven­tions, unlike the con­trol, improved cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty; as assessed on the Intradimensional–Extradimensional Set Shift­ing task (a sen­si­tive mark­er of cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty). The two inter­ven­tions, unlike the con­trol, also improved OCD symp­toms (mea­sured with the Obsessive–Compulsive Inventory–Revised and Yale–Brown Obsessive–Compulsive Scale). Final­ly, we found high lev­els of adher­ence to the inter­ven­tions. These find­ings have sig­nif­i­cant clin­i­cal impli­ca­tions for OCD.

The Study in Context:

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