Working memory is the ability to hold information in mind while mentally manipulating it, usually for some kind of result. Such as calculating a tip in your head, or figuring out how to leave for a tip by calculating in your head a percentage of the bill. Short-term memory is different. It’s merely the information you can hold in your mind, such as remembering a phone number long enough to dial it. After that, you may forget it because it was only in your short term memory and never encoded into long-term memory.
To understand working memory, it’s common to use the brain-as-computer analogy. Your working memory is most easily compared with random access memory (RAM) in a computer. Everyone knows that your computer cannot run very complex computer programs unless it has a lot of RAM. Likewise, it is very difficult to perform mental math, or comprehend what you read, if your working memory is weak. That’s a significant and simplistic generalization, but working memory and RAM share a volatile nature as well as a proportional relationship with more permanent storage. That is, the first step in memorizing something is to be able to hold it in your working memory. The amount of information you can hold in your working memory can then be transferred into long-term memory. However, if your working memory is weak, it will limit the amount of information that can be encoded into long-term memory, making the memorization process arduous.
The larger capacities of long-term memory and hard drive storage are both fed by their more volatile partners. Working memory is thought to stem from temporary neuron activity, while long-term memory reflects physical changes and connections between neurons. That’s why your working memory is more vulnerable to corrupt or lose data, such as through injuries like concussions or age-related cognitive decline. Moreover, there is a strong relationship between attentional control and working memory, such that the majority of people with working memory problems also have problems sustaining their attention, particularly if what they are trying to focus on is not intrinsically interesting. That’s where most people make the mistake of assuming that they don’t have attention or working memory weakness. So think of it this way. If it is more difficult than you think it should be to focus on something that isn’t interesting, consider that you or your child may have a working memory problem. This is often noticed in homework for subjects or tasks that they don’t necessarily like or find interesting.
The best news is that you can train your working memory to higher levels. Whether you have a relatively weak working memory, or you want to perform at optimal levels, you can improve this ability for higher performance.
Training your working memory
The conditions of your working memory change over your lifetime. During childhood, it expands and grows, reaching its peak when you reach your 20s. Working memory then begins to decline, the cognitive function most sensitive to the aging process. Women often notice these declines in their early to mid-50s, and men begin to notice these changes in their mid to upper 50s. When was the last time you walked in a room and forgot why you went there? That would be your working memory breaking down.
Yet, it’s possible, regardless of your age, to “work out” your working memory. Throughout your life, your brain changes, shuffles, and reorganizes itself, an ability called neuroplasticity. Research-based Cogmed working memory training uses computer learning to stimulate neuroplasticity and expand the capacity of your working memory.
How Cogmed works
Continuing with the computer model analogy, long-term memory is static, with only reading and writing capability. Working memory stores information more dynamically, accessible by your fluid intelligence but limited in capacity. Unlike computer chips, though, that have a certain, fixed memory capacity, your working memory can take advantage of neuroplasticity and expand its ability to hold information, if it receives effective stimulation.
Completing repetitive tasks doesn’t present a challenge for working memory, since the longer you perform the same activities or calculations, the more they become hardwired into long-term parts of your brain. While you become an expert at those tasks, they become automatic, no longer involving working memory to perform.
The study tasks presented by Cogmed present changing environments and challenges, helping to strengthen your working memory networks and expanding their capacity.
Benefits of improved working memory
Working with the Cogmed program provides benefits that are confirmed by clinical trials. Regardless of age, 80% of those who complete Cogmed demonstrate sustained improvements to working memory performance and capacity. Other measured benefits include:
- Reduced effects of attention deficit disorders (ADHD)
- Improved attention and focus
- Better performance in some reading and mathematics subjects
- Daily cognitive function improvements
- Reduced symptoms for patients with brain injuries
- Better cognitive function in pediatric cancer survivors
The team at Abbey Neuropsychology Clinic proudly offers Cogmed working memory training to their patients who seek to improve working memory and cognitive function. Dr. Richard Abbey and his staff regularly recommend Cogmed’s 40-session training program, combined with personal coaching designed to help you get the most from your mind, no matter what your age or current neurological condition.
To get started, simply call the office and schedule your initial consultation. You’ll learn more about the Cogmed system and how it will benefit you. Get started on your improved working memory by calling today.