A new study presents strong evidence that a smart phone training program can result in “robust” improvements in day-to-day functioning, and boost independence and confidence levels among people with memory impairment.
Researchers say the study shows that the intervention can be used in a variety of settings as a method to improve memory.
“The goal of our study was to demonstrate the generalizability of our training protocol to a larger number of individuals with moderate-to-severe memory impairment,” said Dr. Eva Svoboda, a clinical neuropsychologist and lead author of the study.
“Our findings demonstrate that it is possible to harness powerful emerging technologies with brain science in an innovative way to give people with a range of memory deficits some of their independence back.”
Memory impairment, particularly when it is severe, can impact virtually all aspects of everyday life, making it difficult or impossible to keep appointments and stay on top of changing personal, social and occupational responsibilities.
Memory re-training has been used for over two decades and is based on a philosophy that leans on the use of implicit memory to improve other areas of memory. Implicit or procedural memory pertains to a type of memory that does not require us to think about things as we do them — for example, riding a bicycle or brushing one’s teeth.
Commercial technologies such as smartphones, iPhones, Android devices and other mobile electronic devices have immense potential for individuals with memory impairment as they offer high storage capacity, auditory and vibration alerts, rich multimedia capability and high user acceptability.
The current study involved 10 outpatients, 18 to 55 years of age, who had moderate-to-severe memory impairment. Their memory impairment was the result of non-neurodegenerative conditions including ruptured aneurysm, stroke, tumor, epilepsy, closed-head injury, or anoxia (insufficient oxygen to the brain) after a heart attack.
Participants completed two phases of training on either a smartphone or another personal digital assistant (PDA) device. Prior to the training, all participants reported difficulty in day-to-day functioning.
Some required ongoing supervision and regular assistance from family members due to their forgetting to pay bills, take medications or attend appointments.
In the first phase, participants were taught the basic functions of their device using a training method that tapped into their preserved implicit /procedural memory.
Each participant received several one-hour training sessions to learn calendaring skills such as inputting appointments and reminders.
In the second phase, participants took the device home to apply their newly acquired calendaring skills in real-life situations. This included setting alarm reminders to take medications and attend future appointments, charging the device, and remembering to keep the device with them at all times.
They also learned how to use other software functions, such as phone, contacts, and camera.
As part of the outcome measures, participants were given a schedule of 10 phone calls to complete over a two-week period at different times of the day — to closely approximate real life commitments.
Family members who lived with participants kept a behavioral memory log of whether real-life tasks were successfully completed or not by their relative. Participants and family members completed a “memory mistakes” questionnaire which involved rating a list of common memory mistakes on a frequency-of-occurrence scale, ranging from “never” to “all the time.”
Participants and family also completed two additional questionnaires. One measured confidence in the participant when dealing with various memory-demanding scenarios (e.g., dentist calls to change appointment dates). The other examined the participant’s use of the device to support traveling back in time (e.g. searching activities and events from preceding days, weeks and months), traveling forward in time (e.g., planning ahead, entering future events and appointments), and technical ease of use of the device.
Although this was only a small trial, all 10 individuals showed “robust increases” in day-to-day memory functioning after taking the training, based on results from the functional and questionnaire-based measures.
Participants continued to report benefits from smart phone and PDA use in short-term followup three to eight months later.
The findings appear online, ahead of print publication, in the international journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.