Targeted Training Does Not Improve Memory in ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) affects many children and adults throughout the world. One of the biggest challenges that children with ADHD face is academic. Young children with ADHD may exhibit symptoms of inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity, forgetfulness, and other behaviors that diminish their ability to flourish in academic settings. Parents and teachers of these children work hard to help them, but often are unable to make an impact without medical intervention.

One approach to treatment for children with ADHD is medication. Although stimulant medication can decrease hyperactivity and improve attention, many children have side effects that outweigh the benefits. Further, it has not been shown to conclusively improve working memory (WM), a domain that directly influences executive function.

An alternative method of treatment has recently emerged. Targeted WM training is a noninvasive approach that aims to increase WM. However, to date, few studies have looked at how memory training transfers to executive function, academic performance, and behavior. To gauge the effects of WM training, Jens Egelend of the Division of Mental Health & Addiction at Vestfold Hospital Trust in Norway recently conducted a study involving 67 children between the ages of 10 and 12. The children all had ADHD and were enrolled in either a WM training program or a control condition. They were assessed prior to training, immediately after training and again eight months later. The goal was to determine if any transfer effects occurred and, more importantly, whether they were sustained.

Egeland found that the children who received the training had improvements in processing speed, but no other neuropsychiatric functions. Further, parents and teachers reported no changes in behavior as result of the training. Academically, the WM training appeared to have no impact on math, but a positive impact on reading. More specifically, reading speed of text increased significantly and text decoding became more accurate.

Unfortunately, Egeland found no evidence for increased WM or other memory functions as a result of the training. The findings of this study are robust, but are in contrast with some existing research in this area. Egeland added, “More research is needed regarding how to improve the training program and the conditions and thresholds for successful training.”

Egeland, J., Aarlien, A.K., Saunes, B.-K. (2013). Few effects of far transfer of working memory training in ADHD: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE 8(10): e75660. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075660

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  • belinda


    October 22nd, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    so are you telling me that this training yields no better results than meds? in that case what are we as parents supposed to do for our kids?

  • Virginia


    October 29th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    The results were not necessraily what you may have wanted them to be. But if you look at this in small increments there were some improvements in reading speed and understanding what they are reading. We all know that when kids feel good about how they perform in school then this often tends to help correct behavior problems when they ahve been overcompensating. So even though this did not necessarily pan out quite the way that researchers thought that it could, it could still be a positive step. When kids start performing better in school, they are going to feel better about themselves and may have a better ability to then control their impulsive behavior or perhaps focus better in the classroom when they feel more engaged and involved in the learning process.

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