Computerized memory training leads to sustained improvement in visuo-spatial short term memory skills in children

Institution: University of Portsmouth

Investigator(s): Stephanie Bennett, Dr. Joni Holmes, Professor Sue Buckley

Program: Cogmed JM

Background & Aim: Working memory (WM) is the system for holding and manipulating information during the performance of complex cognitive activities such as reasoning and active learning. WM can be divided into at least three main components; an attentional system (central executive) and two temporary systems dealing with verbal/acoustic material (phonological loop) and with visual and spatial information (visuo-spatial sketchpad).Individuals with Down syndrome (DS) have deficits specific to the verbal domain, suggesting that DS is associated with deficiencies in phonological loop functioning. This impairment in phonological loop is likely to be a major reason for speech and language delays and difficulties seen in individuals with DS and also will affect their ability to process spoken language and carry out cognitive tasks. The aim of this study is to evaluate the feasibility of using Cogmed JM (visuo-spatial WM training) with children with DS, to investigate whether training leads to improvements in non-trained tasks of both verbal and visuo-spatial STM and WM and to establish whether training leads to any changes in parent ratings of behavior.
Population & Sample Size: N = 24 children with DS, ages 7 – 12 years

Design: Randomized, Waitlist controlled, Test-retest

Pilot Results: Five children with DS, ages 8-10 years, trained under the supervision of their parents with Cogmed JM for 5 weeks. Following training, children evidenced improved scores on an objective memory assessment, particularly in the area of visual memory. Children trained for up to 30 minutes per day for approximately 4 days a week, although this did vary from child to child according to differing family situations and prior engagements. Some children were able to complete the allocated 3 exercises on one day, and some children took up to 3 days to complete 3 exercises. It was noted that performance and engagement with the program was higher for children who completed the activities earlier in the day (either before or straight after school), than the children who completed activities later in the evening. All 5 children made progress and every child improved on trained and non-trained memory activities. Post- training assessments were carried out approximately 6 weeks after memory training had been completed. Overall, parents reported their children to be less hyperactive and as having fewer memory difficulties in their daily lives following training with Cogmed JM. Thus, Cogmed was found to be both feasible and beneficial for children with DS.

To learn more about work with DS children, click here.