What is the Connection Between Schizophrenia and Memory?

Synthia L. Rose

Clinical studies show that patients suffering from diagnosed schizophrenia perform extremely poorly on memory tests; the more extensive the mental illness, the more scattered the memory appears. Psychiatrists offer differing reasons for the correlation between schizophrenia and memory dysfunction. One theory is that schizophrenia, which is characterized by distorted perceptions of reality and social withdrawal, leads to an attention deficit and chaotic thinking pattern that inhibits the synaptic organization necessary for quality recall. A competing explanation is that the hippocampus, a section of the brain’s medial temporal lobe region that is responsible for synthesizing new memories, is damaged or abnormal in schizophrenic patients.

Schizophrenia typically begins during childhood and gets progressively worse.
Schizophrenia typically begins during childhood and gets progressively worse.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is accompanied by intense, fluctuating emotion. Memory and emotion are thought to be interrelated, offering some insight into why schizophrenia and memory problems coexist. The hippocampus, advocates of this theory note, regulates both memory and emotion. Patients with schizophrenia have an easier time remembering details that provoke strong feelings; they tend to easily forget and disregard new information that does not permeate their mental schema with a strong emotional impact. Since new memories are primarily formed through the hippocampus, it might be easier for schizophrenics to recall old details that are emotionally-neutral rather than current ones; this often compounds the disconnection from the present that schizophrenics already have, immersing them even more into the past.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is accompanied by intense, fluxuating emotions.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is accompanied by intense, fluxuating emotions.

Immediate recall is possible with many schizophrenic patients. Most struggle with delayed or long-term recall. Intervention, during which a therapist or other person provides cues and repeated exposure to new information, can help some patients with schizophrenia and memory disorders have better long-term recall.

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Sufferers of schizophrenia do worst with remembering words. The ability to recall pictures tends to be stronger, as does the power to remember and distinguish sound. Psychologists make the distinction that verbal recall often depends on listening to another person or spoken interaction. These are skills that most patients with schizophrenia struggle with, because the activities are forms of socialization; schizophrenics tend toward antisocial behavior.

Most studies ruled out medication as a factor linking schizophrenia and memory. The connection between schizophrenia and memory deficit suggests that it is harder for people with schizophrenia to learn new skills since learning is anchored in quality recall. Amnesia is not the cause of the memory struggles in schizophrenics, studies suggest. Living with schizophrenia typically comes with other cognitive problems such as poor concentration, faulty problem-solving, and an inability to process abstract concepts; substandard memory, however, is believed to be the leading cognitive deficit.

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