It can happen to everyone, at any time, to be unable to keep new information in mind. It may be due to a particularly stressful period, a decrease in concentration and attention, but also due to more serious conditions such as age-related cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or aphasia. Well, there are memorization techniques that can help remember information, such as names, dates, telephone numbers, the need to perform a certain activity, the order in which to perform certain actions and the position of important objects. And these techniques act differently on the brain, resulting therefore differently effective according to the purposes to be achieved, as emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia thanks to the work of a group of American scientists from the University of Michigan and Penn State. College of Medicine (Hampstead et al, Alzheimer's and Dementia, 2022).
Cognitive training is a set of techniques aimed at improving or preserving brain skills in various conditions, including cognitive impairment. The point is that each technique works differently and acts on different brain areas. Therefore, it is also reasonable to expect different results that can make one technique more effective than others to achieve certain objectives. The purpose of the study we are talking about today was precisely to understand, first of all, whether the two main techniques belonging to cognitive training, namely strategic mnemonic training and the spaced retrieval training, can prove effective even in case of cognitive decay. Then, the scientists also tried to understand when one technique can be considered more effective than the other. So let's try to understand better too, but first let's describe the two techniques.
Strategic mnemonic training and spaced retrieval
Strategic mnemonic training requires you to associate what you want to remember with other things, such as words, phrases, images or songs. For example, the formula Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is well known, which helps children to remember the order in which to carry out the operations within an algebraic expression, then first the operations in the Parentheses, then the Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction. In the spaced retrieval technique, on the other hand, after having communicated information to the person, this same information is requested after 15 seconds, then after 30 seconds, after a minute, after 4 minutes, 8 minutes and so on.
Different techniques different results, the study
Scientists recruited 59 people, all with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. People were randomly subjected to one of two types of memorization technique to keep in mind a new piece of information, namely the location of an object that was communicated to them during the test. The volunteers were then subjected to magnetic resonance imaging to study the reaction of the brain and tests to evaluate the effectiveness of the memorization techniques. Well, what has emerged is that both techniques are effective for keeping new information in mind in the short term. Instead, only strategic mnemonic training has been able to act in the long term, also improving the ability to use the information acquired. This is explained by the fact that this technique is able to activate different brain areas, including the hippocampus, which is one of the first brain regions to be affected in case of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's. This technique has allowed to re-establish proper brain functioning. Instead, those who had used the spaced retrieval technique showed a reduction in brain activity, as a result of the fact that they were able to process information more effectively.
When to use the two techniques
What emerges is that the strategic mnemonic training technique is therefore more useful when an ability to retain information for days or weeks is required or when the ability to use the acquired information in other contexts is important. Instead, the spaced retrieval technique is useful for storing information to be used within a few hours or at most a few days. Not only that, in the event of an advanced cognitive decline, the spaced retrieval technique, since it acts on areas less affected by diseases such as Alzheimer's, may prove to be more effective.