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Saturday, July 03, 2004



Regarding "Brain Builder" software:

I personally have had reasonable success with this product and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels they find attending to or comprehending what they read or hear, slow, difficult or error-prone. By reasonable success I mean that my auditory "digit span" when I first measured it on the program was 6. By practicing twice a day I have increased this to 9 digits with about 2 months of practice total. Also, the ease with which I can reverse the digits has increased considerably. I like doing the exercises and my goal is to have a digit span of 12 by the end of 2008.

I have noticed an appreciable increase in the ease with which I comprehend and recall new material (written and spoken) since I began BrainBuilder.

Users beware, however, that progress is not always immediate and steady. One day you might progress a level only to drop 2 levels the next day. This is not important. What is important is consistent, light repetitive exercise of your visual/auditory recall faculties over time. The longer you are willing to continue the program the better (I recommend practicing twice a day, 5 days a week, 4 to 5 weeks straight, followed by giving yourself a break of about a week so you don't grow tired of doing it).

There have been 2 independent pilot studies testing the efficacy of "Working Memory" based programs for ADHD, however, they used a program called "Cogmed." To my knowledge these were not double-blind studies. They have been published in several peer-reviewed journals such as: Brain Injury, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Nature Neuroscience, and Child Neuropsychology. In both studies, 60% of the children who completed the trial, all of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD, no longer met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD (again, there was not a control group and so this evidence is currently being taken by the scientific community as 'preliminary').

The Cogmed application itself doesn't appear to be all that special. There is a robot with a keypad of numbers on his wrist and the child is encouraged to remember (visually) which numbers to press.

With Brainbuilder, there is a keypad and a "professor" and there are 6 separate exercises that cover both auditory and visual short-term memory (forward digit span) and auditory/visual working-memory (reverse digit span). Some of the exercises give you the digits at a steady pace and some of them randomly make the child wait a little longer before they see or hear the next digit in sequence (child must exercise inhibition). From what little information I can find out about Cogmed, Brainbuilder apparently is superior.

I am not aware of any studies done on the effects of digit-span increases on dyslexia. Although, I do know that dyslexic children tend to have poor digit spans and that many neuroscientists now believe that digit spans and working memory can be improved (I can give references if you want). Whether the digit span issue is a causal factor in dyslexia is anyone's guess but it is certainly a contributing factor to slower information processing (please use your common sense here and don't ask for a study to back this claim up).

Will this help your kids dyslexia, or at the very least, some key part of his/her cognitive functioning? If you think that spending $50 to play a game for 20 minutes a day for 5 weeks is too much to do without a double-blind study and the FDA's stamp of approval then you are a bit too anal in my view.


I stand corrected. At least one of the studies done was double-blind:
"In the comparison condition, the same tasks were used but the working memory load, i.e. number of items that should be remembered, was low, thus resulting in easy tasks which were expected to result in only small training effects. By having two similar versions we intended to control as much as possible for non-specific effects of the training procedure, and specifically estimate the effect of improvement of working memory. Both groups were evaluated with neuropsychological tasks before and after training.
When the results from the two groups were compared, we could show that the treatment group had improved significantly more than the comparison group on working memory tasks. Moreover, they had also improved on a task measuring response inhibition, which is something children with ADHD have serious problems with. Somewhat unexpectedly, the children in the treatment group had also improved on a reasoning task known to have a high correlation with IQ."

An overview of research into working memory training with the "RoboMemo" software by Cogmed can be viewed here:


Your knowledge of the Cogmed program appears to be limited, and thus, your comments seem misleading. The Cogmed training actually has 13 different training activities (the trainee does 8 each day; the activities rotate in & out over the five week training period). And the research base is significant, and growing, with researchers at Harvard, Stanford, Duke, NYU, Ohio State using the program because of its effectiveness.

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