Improved Working Memory: Potentially Effective Intervention?

Working memory is the part of memory that helps us hold various bits of ‘data’ online – it’s like cache memory in a computer.  A common observation in children who struggle with learning is that they have a hard time holding more than one thing in mind at one time – think of the typical classroom instruction to get out your math book, turn to page 87 and do the odd numbered problems as an example of where working memory is required.  Working memory is critical for many school-related tasks including "compare and contrast" assignments, as well as for general tasks such as problem-solving, weighing options and so forth.  It is not uncommon for students with attention and executive functioning problems to have relatively weak working memory capacities.

A relatively new training regimen called Cogmed holds the promise of helping students improve working memory.  Cogmed was developed specifically to improve both visual and verbal working memory capabilities. It’s a computer-based program that uses a variety of games to improve functioning.  There is web-based access so trainers, or "coaches" as they’re called, can monitor progress and adjust the program to maximize effectiveness. The program collects and stores data such as when and how long someone is actively engaged in training and it measures progress through a series of graphs and charts.

Cogmed is advertised as evidence-based. However, as it is a relatively new program there hasn’t been enough time for longitudinal, i.e. long-term data to be collected by sites not directly tied to the developer.  So while Cogmed shows promise, claims of lasting, long-term effects are yet to be verified. It is certainly effective as long as the person uses the program and shortly thereafter. Whether those gains remain is yet to be seen.

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