Working Memory Deficit - Causes and Consequences

In this second part of our video series on working memory we are covering working memory deficits. Specifically, we discuss the patient groups commonly associated with the condition and its consequences for daily life.

This is the second part of a four part series. Find part 1 here, and part 3 here.

Video transcript:

When you engage in a cognitive task such as focusing or learning, you are using your working memory. If you, for example, attempt to solve a complex mental math calculation 

Say 26x13.

Now, don’t worry, we’re not going to solve it right now, but if we did, and if we tried to solve it while simultaneously being monitored by brain imaging equipment, it would be registered as neural activity in the parietal and prefrontal cortices. Putting pressure on your working memory results in observable activity in your brain. 

In general, a person's working memory can only hold small amounts of information, meaning, putting pressure on it is fairly easy. The exact amount of information an individual can retain in their working memory is their Working Memory Capacity, a measure that differs across the population.

The average person can hold about seven digits worth of information in their working memory (±2), but some people can store as much as ten or eleven digits worth. Since working memory capacity is so closely associated with certain cognitive abilities, a person with a large capacity such as that will typically be better than most at focusing, learning, and getting things done.

But - the inverse is also true. A person with an impaired working memory - a working memory deficit - can keep less information available in their minds, and the information that they do keep is more easily lost when they get distracted.

Impaired working memory is closely associated with attention deficit. The consequences of which include having problems focusing on the task at hand, failing to remember instructions, and getting distracted easily. A person with attention deficit often has academic difficulties, particularly when it comes to mathematics and reading comprehension. For many people this can lead to low self-confidence and personal suffering.

There are several common medical conditions that have impaired working memory and attention deficit as key components. These include:

  • adhd
  • stroke
  • premature birth
  • paediatric cancer treatment (such as radiation and chemo therapy)
  • traumatic brain injury

About one in five people globally will be affected by at least one of these conditions during their lifetime. Impaired working memory is a huge cost for society, and a painful loss of human potential.

But - by helping people train their working memory, some of that potential can be restored.

Working memory deficit:

A lower-than average working memory capacity, closely associated with attention deficit. A key component of several common medical conditions. 

Cogmed Team

Assembling neurons since 2002