A team of researchers from University of Michigan and Penn State College of Medicine compared two mnemonic strategies for people with memory loss and published the findings in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia. Patients with mild cognitive impairment were randomly assigned to either mnemonic strategy training (MST) or spaced retrieval training (SRT). Both training approaches were highly effective in the short term, but MST offered more long-term effectiveness.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed distinct patterns of change in brain activation and functional connectivity between frontal, temporal, parietal regions, and hippocampus. The different strategies engaged different parts of the brain. MST increased activation in lateral and rostral prefrontal cortex as well as in the hippocampus, whereas SRT reduced activation predominantly in sensory cortical regions.
SRT was associated with patterns of reduced activation and functional connectivity. According to Dr. Hampstead, “Mnemonic strategy training increased activity in brain areas often affected by Alzheimer’s disease, which likely explains why this training approach helped participants remember more information and for longer. In contrast, those completing rehearsal-based training showed reduced brain activity, which suggests they were processing the information more efficiently.” The findings support the rational development of cognitive training techniques that aim to connect what someone is trying to remember to something else like a word, phrase or song and spaced retrieval training (which gradually increases the amount of time between tests of remembering something).
The findings are useful for establishing treatment parameters for cognitive training techniques. MST may be more appropriate when retention is needed for days to weeks, based on the finding the participants successfully developed strategies for 82% of the stimuli. MST will be most effective during earlier clinical/disease stages when brain networks are relatively preserved, whereas SRT may be more beneficial in more advanced clinical/disease stages and require identifying a critical point in clinical progression when treatment should shift from MST to SRT (or other rehearsal-based approaches).
Greater physical activity is associated with cognitive functioning across the lifespan. Research has shown the effectiveness of non-medication-based ways to improve memory such as physical exercise as an alternative to medication based therapies. The researchers anticipate that mnemonic strategies will increasingly be used on their own or in conjunction with pharmacological treatments for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.
Source: Alzheimer's & Dementia