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For kids with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia, exercises aimed at improving their memory don't seem to help much, according to a new study.
Researchers looked at 23 previous studies in which healthy children, children with cognitive disorders, or healthy adults completed some type of training designed to improve their working memory, and the results were compared to those of a control group. The researchers found that working memory training had no affect on the children with disorders, and had only a limited affect on healthy children and adults.
“The training may help you improve your short-term memory when it's related to the task implemented in training, but it won't improve reading difficulties or help you pay more attention in school," said study author Monica Melby-Lervag, of the University of Oslo.
Exercises called "working-memory training" programs attempt to improve cognitive function by asking a participant to perform a task while distracted by another task. They are intended to help people perform better by helping them remember relevant information in the short-term.
“The success of working-memory training programs is often based on the idea that you can train your brain to perform better, using repetitive memory trials, much like lifting weights builds muscle mass," Melby-Lervag said.
The researchers found that while the training led to improvements in working memory itself, it had no impact on general thinking skills (verbal, reading or arithmetic skills, for example), nor did it increase children's ability to pay attention in school.
Some computer programs claim to train working memory or are marketed as being beneficial to people with attention problems or learning disorders, the researchers said, but the findings show that "it seems very difficult to justify the use of working memory training programs," to treat language or learning disorders, Melby-Lervag said.
The study was published Thursday (May 31) in the Journal of Developmental Psychology.
Pass it on: For kids with ADHD or other similar disorders, working memory training only improves memory, not overall brain power.