Working memory is the ability to hold and process information in your mind and then to use that information within a short time frame. For example, recalling each step of a recipe as you cook uses your working memory. Children with epilepsy commonly have problems with working memory, which can stem from epilepsy itself or from long-term use of anti-seizure medications. Working memory problems can have negative impacts on learning, reasoning, memory, attention and quality of life.
To address these concerns – without the use of medications – Dr. Elizabeth Kerr at the Hospital for Sick Children is testing a commercially available computer intervention known as Cogmed for children with epilepsy and working memory problems. The Cogmed RoboMemo program helps to build working memory skills through games that adjust to a child’s abilities. Positive feedback, rewards and coaching were included to encourage continued use of the program.
In her 2015 study, Dr. Kerr looked at whether intensive use (5 days a week for 5-7 weeks) of Cogmed could immediately improve the working memory of children with epilepsy. Compared to children on the waiting list, the group that completed Cogmed performed better on new, untrained tasks – such as backwards number recall, counting recall and visual-spatial tests. Based on an additional analysis, it was found that 50% or more of the children who completed Cogmed training displayed improvements in several aspects of their working memory.
In her new publication, Dr. Kerr looks at the effects of Cogmed training 3 months later. In this study, children showed improvements in hearing and vision-based working memory both immediately after Cogmed testing and at 3 month follow-up. Visual attention span was also significantly higher at 3 months when compared to before the Cogmed training. However, Cogmed did not significantly improve visual-verbal working memory or reasoning at 3 months.
Overall, these studies highlight the benefits of Cogmed for hearing and vision-based working memory in children with epilepsy. Although more needs to be done to better understand its effectiveness and benefits in the long-term, these important findings point to a new, non-medical way of improving a child’s working memory and overall quality of life.