If you find yourself forgetting why you are standing in front of the refrigerator, or where you left your cell phone when you came home from work, we’ve got good news! If your daughter can’t seem to remember simple directions such as to brush her teeth (even though you’ve told her a thousand times), or your son regularly forgets that baseball requires a glove and a hat, we’ve got good news! Neuroscientists have conclusively demonstrated that intensive training can significantly improve Working Memory, the skill you need for all of the aforementioned activities.
Until recently, psychologists and neuroscientists believed that Working Memory was a fixed ability, that there was very little that could be done to improve it. If your child had poor working memory, or you were an adult over the age of 35 (when Working Memory capacities begin to deteriorate), the best you could do was learn to make lists or develop other strategies to create reminders for yourself.
Working Memory, the capacity to hold information in mind as you are actively using it, is now understood to be more important to academic success than intelligence or specific training in reading, math, or writing. Working Memory helps us to connect new information to what we have previously learned, to effectively follow directions, and to sustain our attention and effort to demanding tasks. There is compelling data that verbal working memory deficits underlie reading difficulties that involve decoding (sounding out) words and reading comprehension. Visual spatial working memory, which uses a different part of the brain than verbal working memory, is strongly connected to difficulties with mathematics.
The latest research is showing us how Working Memory capacity can be dramatically increased. This is great news not only for those of you who are over the age of 35 and are still looking for your cell phone, but also fantastic news for children who have learning and attentional problems characterized by Working Memory deficits. The most compelling data for Working Memory improvement comes from studies that use digital technologies as an intervention agent in brain training. There are also many memory intervention strategies such as rehearsal, organizational, and practice-based strategies that have been demonstrated to improve working memory.
There are a number of new technologies and training programs that have been developed to improve Working Memory skills. These include websites such as Lumosity.com, Junglememory.com, and Happyneuron.com. These programs use their own set of games and apps to improve verbal and visuospatial working memory skills.
Cogmed Working Memory Training has the most compelling scientific research to support its use as a tool to improve Working Memory skills. At the time of this post, there were 31 peer-reviewed studies supporting the use of Cogmed Working Memory Training to improve Working Memory skills, and more than 50 additional studies are in progress. These studies have demonstrated how Cogmed is effective in improving working memory in preschoolers as well as in helping children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders, Learning Disabilities, and Down Syndrome. There are a series of studies with adults and the elderly demonstrating the improvement of Working Memory skills. What is most remarkable, is that effects of Cogmed Working Memory Training are long term and generalizes across activities.
The good news again, is that we are developing the science for improving long term Working Memory skills in children and adults. Issues such as the intensity, duration, and type of training that might be best for a particular individual or population of children are still unclear. We are learning about the role of ongoing training and practice as well as developing new methods for improving verbal and visual spatial working memory. If you observe some of these difficulties in yourself or your child, you can now use many of these promising new tools. With sustained and intense effort, they will make a difference for you.