Independent researchers at Notre Dame validate the benefits of working memory training

Research institution: University of Notre Dame

Research title: Working memory training for early adolescents with ADHD

Researchers: Gibson, B., Seroczynski, A., Gondoli, D., Braungart-Rieker, J., Grundy, A.

Training program used in research: Cogmed RM

Presented: Poster presented at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development

This study was the initial effort by researchers with no Cogmed affiliation to examine the impact of Cogmed Working Memory Training in youth with ADHD. Participants were 12 adolescent students, 12-14 years old, who were receiving medication treatment for ADHD. Students received the standard Cogmed training of five 30-40 minutes sessions per week over the course of five-weeks. Before and after training, parents and teachers completed ratings of participant’s ADHD symptoms. Pre-and post-assessments of working memory using neuropsychological tests were also obtained.

Researchers found statistically significant reductions in parent ratings of inattentive symptoms after training. Significant reductions, albeit smaller, were also found for parent ratings of hyperactive-impulsive symptoms. Teacher ratings indicated a trend towards reductions in attention problems. Neuropsychological test results supported these behavioral findings, as participants showed significant gains in two measures of working memory (ie., Digit Span and Span Board). Significant gains in fluid intelligence, as assessed by the Ravens Progressive Matrices were also reported.

Summary and Implications
Although positive behavioral outcomes were observed in this population of ADHD adolescents, there are some limitations to these findings. First, this was not a randomized-controlled trial and neither parents nor teachers were blind to the fact that children received Cogmed Working Memory Training. Thus, although the behavioral ratings support results from earlier randomized-controlled trials, they should be regarded with caution. Despite the improved outcomes on neuropsychological tests of WM, the absence of a placebo-control group prevents comparison to a sample population with ADHD that did not receive WM training. Thus, this study is best regarded as a pilot investigation of Cogmed Working Memory Training that supports results obtained in randomized controlled trials and not as a stand-alone study from which firm conclusions can be drawn.

It is important to note that all participants were receiving medication during the study. Thus, the gains reported by parents and teachers, as well as improvements in the neuropsychological assessments, were above and beyond whatever benefits were already provided by medication. These findings suggest that Cogmed Working Memory Training can add to the benefits obtained with medication. In the future, establishing Cogmed training as a supplementary intervention to medication for ADHD adolescents requires a study with a larger sample in which the appropriate controls were employed.