Working Memory

by Vicki Parker, Ph.D. CCC-SLP

Working memory is the driver for achievement and learning.  If you want to learn new things then working memory is key for you to progress forward. In working memory the information is held while we manipulate it, similar to a computer’s clipboard.  Working memory is activated for new information and for retrieval of long term or stored information.  Working memory is not domain specific and is at work with both auditory and visual stimuli, it is involved in the operations of input and output.

 Below are some of the frequent signs and symptoms of difficulty with working memory:

  • Difficulty following and participating in fast moving conversations.
  • Starting new topics frequently during conversations and having off topic comments.
  • Reading something one day and not being able to recall the details the next.
  • Not being able to recall new a process presented at work, and have to reread the instructions even after having practiced the task multiple times.
  • Time management difficulties including frequently being late.
  • Easily distractible and has difficulty maintaining focus.
  • Trouble with organizing and breaking down tasks into smaller steps.
  • Difficulty following movies with multiple characters.

If you experience some of the symptoms listed above on a fairly regular basis it is time for an assessment and planning the best way to improve your skills.  Memory is changeable with training!

 There are many ways to improve working memory; some examples are memory exercises, working on internal timing, playing games that have memory components and computer activities. Memory can be improved by priming our thought process (pre-focusing) and prediction.  When we get our mind ready to learn something it does a better job at holding this information.   An example of this would be having questions to review before we read an article.  Mental tracking, partly an attention activity, is an activity researched that improves working memory.  For example, track the number of cars in front of you in the drive thru to determine how long until your turn. Mental comparison activities are tasks that aid in memory gains; an example would be determining which size pan is needed to feed 10 people.  Visualization strategies and mnemonics help individuals recall concepts that can be linked together; for example creating a story to remember your grocery list versus writing items down.  Strategies that help individuals remember by location are another way to help with recall by learning patterns and associations.  Over learning concepts, i.e. math facts, that were learned in many ways and contexts is a useful strategy to move something from working memory to long term memory. 

 The most researched and effective computer based program is Cogmed™; an evidence-based program for improving attention by training an individual's working memory.  Games that promote memory include:  Battleship, Simon, concentration type games and many computer based games.

Memory responds well to training.  If you are concerned about your memory make a plan and start working on improving your skills today.

 Parker is the sole owner of The Brain Trainer, Speech Pathology services and a cognitive learning center for all ages. For additional information about the services offered, call us at (704)541-1373 or visit us online at

Different Kinds of Attention and Their Effect on You

By Vicki Parker, Ph.D. CCC-SLP

As adults one of your biggest assets is your time management ability.   One of the components of time management is attention which is our focus today.  The other components of time management are; initiation, memory, logic/reasoning and processing speed.

Your attention is not what it used to be.  Imagine this, you are at a continuing education event and find yourself daydreaming or zoning out. Suddenly you hear a piece of information that is interesting and realize you have missed the previous comment.  This is an indication that you are having difficulty with sustained attention.

Sustained attention is your ability to focus over time.  Here are some things you can do to help sustain attention.

  • New and novel activities assist with keeping attention.  Sit in a new seat.   Move your seat halfway through a lecture.  If you are presenting, think of how you can change your style for different segments of your presentation (i.e.  lecture, interaction, short visual clips)
  • Practice vigilant tasks such as scanning magazine articles for various letter patterns. Find word search activities.
  • Reading has been found to be an activity that helps with sustained attention.  See how many pages you can read with focused attention and concentration.  Try and go a little farther each week. For example, week one 3 pages a day, week two 4 pages a day, and week three 5 pages a day and so on.

You are at a restaurant speaking with a friend and lose your thought and focus. The restaurant is busy and you frequently find that you are distracted by the other people in the room or noises you hear.   You may be having difficulty with selective attention.

Selective attention is one's ability to attend even in the presence of visual distractions and unrelated noise.  Here are some suggestions for something you can do to help improve selective attention.

  • Sometimes knowing you have a limited amount of time causes you to focus intently short term.  Set a time limit for how long you are going to work on something.  Kitchen timers that are visual countdown timers are wonderful for building sustained attention and practicing selective attention.  Make sure you are gradually increasing the time you are working on a task as the task gets more complex.
  • Estimate the time and give yourself short term goals to focus on.
  • Background instrumentals and white noise have been found to be helpful for many individuals.
  • Ask yourself at random points.  Am I focused?  This will often be the nudge you need to get back on track.

You are working on a proposal, the phone rings; you need to pick it up.  While you talk you are trying to work on your proposal at the same time.  You are making errors on your proposal and asking your caller to repeat information fairly frequently.  Neither is going well. You may be having difficulties with divided attention.

Divided attention is one's ability to attend to one item, switch attention to another stimuli/task and return to the initial task.  Many think of divided attention as multitasking.  Divided attention has to do with mental flexibility and processing speed.  Suggestions for improving divided attention include:

  • Actually, try not to multitask with items that require concentration.  If you must multitask, it is better to pair a repetitive motor task with a mental concentration task.
  • Physical activities that have frequent transitions and changes often help with divided attention and processing speed.  These may include activities such as ping pong, racquetball, tennis or juggling.

There are evidence based ways to improve the three areas of attention we have discussed above.  However, it is important for you to know your strengths and weaknesses. Try and identify where you may be having attention problems so that you and a professional can better address your individual strengths and weaknesses in attention and make a plan that is tailored to your needs.

Parker is the sole owner of The Brain Trainer, a cognitive learning center and speech pathology services for all ages.  The location is 11030 Golf Links Drive, Suite 204. The phone number is (704)541-1373.