On this page, you will find more information about working memory as well as information about Cogmed Working Memory Training™, a scientifically-validated training program for children (age 4+) and adults with working memory problems. This is a Cogmed-qualified practice.
What is working memory, and what do I need it for?
Working memory is the ability to actively and temporarily store and manipulate information in one’s mind during a very short period of time, usually in order to perform some task with the information. For instance, when you go upstairs to retrieve a pair of slippers, you need to keep in mind your reason for climbing the stairs until the task is accomplished. (If you don’t, then you may find yourself asking that all-too-familiar question: “Why did I come into this room again?”) You further have to bear in mind all the places that you’ve just searched, so you don’t look there again. You may also “download” other types of information into your working memory to help you complete the task, such as your recollection of the last place you saw the slippers, what you were doing when you kicked them off, or how many days it has been since you saw them. Another example of working memory use is remembering what you plan to order as a restaurant while the server goes around the table taking the orders of other diners.
To maintain information in your working memory, you need to be able to resist distraction while you keep the information in mind. Working memory is important for any task that requires mental storage and manipulation of information: reading comprehension, mental calculation, following step-by-step instructions, learning new information, and so forth.
How do I know if I have a problem with my working memory?
Working memory, like most of the executive functions, is very susceptible to disruption. It is therefore often affected by most conditions that affect the brain, including developmental disorders like ADHD or acquired conditions such as stroke or brain injury.
You might have a weak working memory if you:
- Have trouble remembering what you’ve just read and keep re-reading the same paragraph over and over
- Have trouble doing math in your head, like calculating tips or change
- Get distracted easily
- Have trouble multitasking
- Lose track of the topic in a conversation
- Have trouble finishing a task that you’ve started
- Have a hard time planning and organizing a big project that has multiple steps
These problems can sometimes occur for other reasons, but usually working memory plays a role.
What can be done about weaknesses in working memory?
Scientists used to think that if you had trouble with your working memory, you were stuck with it for life. Fortunately, new research over the last decade has shown that this is not true! Most people can improve their working memory gradually and significantly through mental exercises, if the training program is appropriately targeted to their individual needs and if they have the support of a trained practitioner during the training.
This practice now offers a computerized, evidence-based program for working memory training, available for children (aged 4 and up) as well as for adults. This particular program, called Cogmed, was developed by neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. It has been the subject of numerous scientific studies, published in major, peer-reviewed journals, and has demonstrated very encouraging results for a variety of patient populations. Among other benefits, studies have shown improved behavior, academic functioning, and concentration in children who complete the training; adults notice better concentration, less forgetfulness, and better follow-through. This program involves a combination of coaching with Dr. Imber and computer-based training that you complete in your own home. By clicking here, you can download the Cogmed Intake Questionnaire for Adults. Please call Dr. Imber at 617-487-8910 for more information, or to schedule an appointment.