How to train working memory after stroke?
Memory loss is something that everyone experiences at times, often increasing with age or a neurological problem such as a stroke. Working memory is what we call short-term memory; it is a key cognitive function that allows individuals to hold information “online” for short periods of time. Working memory is often affected after stroke and traumatic brain injuries resulting in problems with attention and planning. After a stroke, one of the main reasons for not being able to return to work is the cognitive problems.
While there are many therapies addressing problems with motor functions and language, there is currently no satisfactory way to treat the cognitive problems. A new study carried out by Dr. Westerberg has shown that victims of acquired brain injury can improve their attention by using a software-based program (Cogmed) to train working memory. 89% of stroke victims who participated in the training reported that after that they were less easily distracted, less likely to daydream and less likely to lose focus when reading. The study is the first of its kind to demonstrate that working memory training among stroke victims leads to improvements in daily life; yet it was performed on a too small sample to be significant and need be tested some more. Optimistic, Dr. Westerberg reported: “This study is an indication of the broad potential of working memory training. In many ways, we are only beginning to understand the tremendous impact that this kind of focused training can have on individuals suffering from various cognitive limitations.” If the method is once more proved to be truly efficient, it could bring new hope to the stoke survivors who suffer severe working memory deficits that impair their executive functioning and social interaction. Working memory capacity is a fundamental cognitive ability necessary for the rehabilitation of other mental functions.
Until such techniques get widely distributed, stroke survivors can make up their own way to train their working memory. The most important step toward improving memory skills is making a conscious decision to pay attention. Then, simple techniques can help to process information, store it and retrieve it when needed. Here are some tips to train your memory: pick the one that suits you best!
You can learn or recall something more easily if you associate it with something you already know or remember. To recall a specific date, associate it with another well-known date (Christmas, your birthday, etc.)
To help remember names, associate the new name with a famous person or someone you already know.
Associate a person’s name with their physical characteristics (eyes, ears, weight, size); you don’t have to tell the person about your little trick.
Pair chores or tasks you might forget about with things you always remember to do. For example, if you drink tea every morning put your pills by the tea bags so you will not forget them.
Repetition and rehearsal
There is no such thing as “overlearning”; studying or reviewing the material more than you think you need to can prove very useful. Do not hesitate to repeat new information to yourself several times, spacing out these repetitions over time. If you must remember something quite long (story, map indications, etc.) break-up information into smaller pieces and learn them carefully the one after the other. Better training your memory carefully than rushing for nothing.
“The weakest ink is stronger than the best memory”, Confucius said. Old sayings are often good advice; if you want to remember something, write it down. Get yourself a comprehensive calendar in which you can write down not only things to do, but also names and contact number, medication and any further information you want to remember about. In a nutshell, make sure you have plenty of space to store valuable information.
Challenge yourself with easy mind games to train your memory without even noticing. Take a look a picture for a couple of minutes, then hide it and try to write down all the objects on it, or try to redraw it. Start with easy pictures and gradually increase difficulty. Play memory game with your children or grand children; not only will you train your memory but you will spend good time with loved ones and for sure they will enjoy it too!
Improving memory requires awareness of the possibility of forgetting and then making a conscious effort to use some type of memory tool. Experiment with a variety of techniques and find what works for you. And more importantly, have fun!