Working memory is the ability to briefly hold information in your mind and work with it – such as remembering someone’s phone number while you look for a piece of paper to write it down. Children with epilepsy commonly experience problems with working memory, which can have an impact on their ability to learn, reason and pay attention.
In a recently published study, Dr. Elizabeth Kerr at the Hospital for Sick Children looked at whether an intensive (5 days a week for 5 weeks), personalized training tool, called Cogmed, could improve the working memory of children with uncontrolled seizures. Children either engaged in game-like activities that adjusted to their daily abilities or were placed on a waiting list to complete the training.
Compared to children on the waiting list, the group that completed Cogmed performed better on new, untrained tasks immediately after training. On an individual basis, over 50% of children who completed the working memory training showed significant improvements in several areas of their hearing and visual working memory.
Because the initial results have been promising, Dr. Kerr is expanding her study to see whether the improvements in working memory are still present several months later. She will also be looking at whether working memory improvements are related to changes in everyday behaviours, such as following instructions, and whether the training is linked to positive brain changes, as seen using brain imaging. These findings could lead to a new, non-invasive approach to improving a child’s working memory and overall quality of life.