The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (February 2005) is reporting a study that shows that training children’s "working memory" results in identifiable changes in the brain. Around 40 kids with ADHD completed more than 20 days of training using the computer program, their parents reported they had significantly fewer problems with attention and hyperactivity, both immediately and three months after the program ended. Study author Dr. Torkel Klingberg of the Karolinska Institute, Sweden describes this type of memory is what we use to keep information in our minds for short periods of time, and to complete day-to-day activities.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that working memory is impaired in kids with ADHD, Klingberg added. “These deficits can explain why they forget the ‘internal plan’ of what they are supposed to do next, or forget what they should focus their attention on.”
To investigate whether training aimed at improving working memory helps kids with ADHD, the researchers asked 53 children with ADHD between the ages of 7 and 12 to complete working memory exercises using a computer program.
During the exercises, kids practiced memorizing the locations of objects or a series of letters. Half of children were assigned a treatment program that adjusted in difficulty according to the ability of the child, while the other half completed a comparison program, which stayed at a low level of difficulty.
Kids spent approximately 40 minutes every day for 25 days using the program, either at school or home. Forty-two finished the program and checked in for a follow-up three months later.
After training, the researchers found that kids who used the treatment program showed significantly more improvements in working memory.
Klingberg added that kids using the adjustable program were also better able to tackle problem-solving tasks. “The children were able to use their better working memory in order to control their attention and keep mental strategies in mind.” Moreover, parents also reported that kids given the treatment showed improvements in attention and were less hyperactive or impulsive.
Klingberg noted that children may be able to strengthen their working memory using other means than the computer program. “Working memory is required for many activities, and children could get some training from activities such as mental calculation or playing chess,” he said.
However, Klingberg noted that kids likely need to test their working memory to its limits for long stretches for several weeks at a time to get the same benefits as the computer program.