“Hearing voices” is one of the most common, and disturbing, characteristics of schizophrenia. Classified as a severe, chronic, and debilitating mental health disorder by the National Institutes of Health, schizophrenia is characterized by verbal and auditory hallucinations. Affecting about 1.1 percent of the population of the United States, it can be a scary and confusing disorder.
Recently, scientists have discovered the precise region of the brain that causes schizophrenics to “hear voices.” This allowed them to target the area with magnetic pulses. In some patients, this helped to improve their well-being.
In the study, researchers applied Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. TMS has been successful in treating other severe psychiatric conditions, but until recently had not been tested in management of audio-visual hallucinations.
The researchers studied 33 control patients with a placebo treatment and 26 patients who received TMS treatments. Treating the patients for two weeks with a series of 20 hertz magnetic pulses twice daily, they observed the results. Targeting the pulses at the places where the brain crosses itself, they directed their attention towards areas of the brain responsible for language production.
Evaluated again after two weeks, the patients were found to exhibit a significantly positive response. Reducing auditory hallucinations by more than 30 percent for more than 30 percent of their experimental group, the researchers were pleased with the results, saying “This is the first controlled trial to precisely determine an anatomically defined brain area where high frequency magnetic pulses can improve the hearing of voices. This means two things; firstly, it seems that we now can say with some certainty that we have found a specific anatomical area of the brain associated with auditory verbal hallucinations in schizophrenia. Secondly, we have shown that treatment with high frequency TMS makes a difference to at least some sufferers, although there is a long way to go before we will know if TMS is the best route to treat these patients in the long-term.”
Though the results are modest, the efficacy of the study will give more ground for developing future treatments. Most schizophrenics go without proper treatment, and this study is a step in the right direction towards helping people who “hear voices”. In the meantime, the study provides other researchers with a navigable map of the brain for treating schizophrenia.
See the article that inspired this one here