JVS first in Canada to offer memory training program

Publication: The Canadian Jewish News
Published: December 6th, 2007
By: Carolyn Blackman

JVS Toronto has been selected to be the first site in Canada to offer a home-based learning program that has been proven to improve short-term memory.

Cogmed Working Memory Training, a program that combines computer training and personal coaching, helps children with attention problems by improving their ability to concentrate, control impulsive behaviour and better utilize complex reasoning skills.

It can also be used for adults who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury. More than 1,400 children and adults have already been trained in the United States and Europe.

The program was launched at a recent panel discussion featuring Rosemary Tannock, Canada research chair and professor of special education in psychiatry at the University of Toronto; and Dr. Torkel Klingberg, a professor in cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and co-founder of the Cogmed program.

Tannock said that working memory is the ability to keep information in mind for a short time, focus on a task and remember what to do next.

It’s important, she said, because it plays a contributing role in academic outcomes.

“Working memory is the temporary storage. It allows us to hold onto information temporarily and utilize it.”

Examples she said are mental arithmetic such as adding up a shopping bill or remembering people’s names at a cocktail party.

“Controlled attention allows us to retain information for a few seconds. Those who hold more information are more likely to be attentive. Poor working memory results in susceptibility to interference. If you do not do anything with the information, it is gone.”

Klingberg said that although many professionals believe working memory can’t be changed, he is inspired by studies that say the brain can change.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute disregarded what many psychologists believe and developed a method of changing working memory, he said.

The program involves training at home or at school – there are versions for kids three to seven years old, seven to 16 years old and 16 years old and older – five days a week for 40 minutes a day over a period of five weeks.

About 80 per cent of the children who complete training, which involves rigorous and sustained mental exercises, show an improvement in attention and complex reasoning skills, he said.

Both parents and teachers have reported other changes, he said, such as improved social skills, taking initiative, remembering things, and completing tasks such as homework assignments more independently.

For information, call JVS at 416-787-1151, ext. 532.

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