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The Exciting Growing Field of Evidence-Based Cognitive Training


08Nov 2009

Would you like to:

  • remember better what you have read?
  • hold onto more information in your head?
  • be better at figuring out multiple-step math problems?
  • remember where you place items?
  • recall what you wanted to say earlier in a conversation?
  • not forget what to get from a room you just went into?
  • stay mentally focused better during conversations or lectures?
  • not be so easily distracted by noises and actions around you?

If so, then welcome to the field of cognitive training (or “brain training”, as it is called by the popular media.)

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Austin, Texas for a gathering of international experts (from the U.K., Sweden, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.) on one form of cognitive training — that which focuses on a core skill called working memory.

Working memory (as compared to short-term memory or long-term memory) is the ability to hold onto information while you are using it.  It is the combination of short-term memory and processing information.

So working memory is utilized when you:

  • read instructions for installing a new garbage disposal in your kitchen and you try to remember the first three steps.
  • are downstairs and make a list in your head of the things to remember to get from your basement.
  • are running errands and you have a list of places to remember where to stop.
  • try to figure out in your head what a 15-20% tip would be on a meal costing $45.00 .

This weekend we were exposed to new, and exciting research on how children’s, adolescents’ and adults’ working memory can be improved through computer-based training and its practical impact on their lives.

For example, we heard about:

  children survivors of brain tumors and leukemia. These children often lose significant cognitive, intellectual and academic abilities as a result of the chemotherapy and radiation therapy they receive.  Research being conducted at Duke University Medical Center is finding that working memory training appear to be able to reverse the losses previously experienced.

  autistic spectrum children and adolescents who also have problems with attention and poor mental focus. A multi-disciplinary outpatient treatment facility in Michigan is finding that, in addition to treatment by medication, computer-based working memory training often has positive effects on the social and emotional functioning of these students.  Parents report fewer “emotional meltdowns”, more awareness about their feelings, and better impulse control.

  elementary school ADHD students.   A group of researchers in the U.K. have found that after completing a working memory training program for five weeks, students’ academic abilities improved in reading comprehension, math reasoning, and being able to follow multiple-step classroom instructions.

Additionally, researchers are finding that:

 -working memory ability is a better predictor of academic success than students’ IQ scores.

 -deficits in working memory are highly common for children with genetic disorders.

 -traditional classroom instruction requires high levels of working memory for students.

 -students with low working memory: a) forget crucial information; and b) fail to successfully complete tasks.

To learn more about working memory, what it looks like in daily life, and to take a brief working memory assessment, go to www.aboutworkingmemory.com . 

There is a fascinating website that shares individual’s stories (preschoolers, school-age students, adolescents, and adults) who have been helped by receiving training for their working memory abilities.  And for those of you who would like to find out more about the training itself, visit www.workingmemorysolutions.com or www.cogmed.com . 

These are exciting times in the area of brain training and its impact on our daily lives!

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