Stroke Victims Regain Focus through Working Memory Training

Naperville, Ill., June 11, 2007—A new study finds that victims of acquired brain injury, such as stroke can improve their attention by using a software-based program to train working memory, a key cognitive function that allows individuals to hold information “online” for short periods of time. Eighty-nine percent of stroke victims who participated in the training reported that after training they were less easily distracted, less likely to daydream and less likely to lose focus when reading. The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that working memory training among stroke victims leads to improvements in daily life.

Results of the research effort appeared in the January 2007 issue of the journal Brain Injury under the title “Computerized working memory training after stroke – A pilot study.” Conducted in 2005, the study was led by Helena Westerberg, Ph.D., a researcher at the Karolinska Institute’s Aging Research Centre in Stockholm, Sweden.

The study included eighteen subjects suffering from stroke and exhibiting severe problems with working memory, which is critical for reading, focusing attention and remembering what to do next. Participants were randomly assigned to either a control group, or a treatment group that performed Cogmed Working Memory Training, a software-based training program originally designed for children with attention deficits.

Participants in the treatment group demonstrated strong improvements in all tasks related to working memory after the training, based on a neuropsychological test battery and a self-reported rating scale regarding the symptoms of cognitive failure in daily life. Eight of the nine participants (89 percent) in the treatment group reported a significant reduction in cognitive failure according to a 25-question assessment.

“These results are especially encouraging because there is a high correlation between working memory capacity and the outcome of physical rehabilitation,” said Westerberg. “This study is an indication of the broad potential of working memory training. In many ways, we are only beginning to understand the tremendous impact that this kind of focused training can have on individuals suffering from various cognitive limitations.”

Severe working memory deficits commonly result from acquired brain injuries such as stroke and impair executive functioning and social interaction. Working memory capacity is a fundamental cognitive ability necessary for the rehabilitation of other mental functions.