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  • Get access to a complete battery of cognitive tests to assess short-term memory

  • Identify and assess the presence of alterations or deficits

  • Validated instruments to improve or rehabilitate short-term memory and other cognitive skills

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What is short-term memory?

Short-term memory could be defined as the memory mechanism that allows us to retain a certain amount of information over a short period of time. Short-term memory temporarily retains processed information that either fades quickly or turns into long-term memory. Short-term memory has two main properties: a limited capacity and a finite duration.

  • Ability of short-term memory: If you are asked to remember a sequence of 10 digits, you'll likely be able to remember between 5 and 9 numbers. This is because the amount of information short-term is able to retain is 7 elements, with a variation of 2, either more or less. Naturally, short-term memory is slightly variable, which is why there are some people who have the ability to remember more or less elements. The ability to remember elements may also be affected by the function of the material, like the length of the words, the emotional relevance of the stimuli, and other individual differences. Also, if you are able to group or "chunk" information together, it is possible to increase the number of elements that you're able to remember. For example, when trying to remember a phone number, grouping the numbers into groups of two or three can make it easier to remember.
  • Duration of short-term memory: The amount of time that you can remember the sequence of digits is finite. Our short-term memory can retain information for up to 30 seconds. However, it's possible to increase this time by repeating the sequence or giving the elements a meaning.

Short-term memory acts like an access door to long-term memory, or like a storage room that makes it possible to retain information that we won't necessarily need in the future, but that we need in the moment. As short-term memory is directly related to long-term memory, any damage to short-term memory can affect the acquisition of new memories into long-term memory.

If short-term memory alone is damaged, we lose the ability to retain information over a short period of time. This would make it very difficult, or even impossible, to understand long sentences and and follow along in a conversation.

Short-term memory and its relation to other basic types of memory

When we talk about memory, it is normal to think about memories and experiences, but memory is involved in many other processes. In general, it is possible to distinguish between four memory mechanisms that are relatively independent from each other:

  • Sensory Memory: Retains sensory stimuli over a very short period of time in order to process them and send them to short-term memory.
  • Short-term memory: Retains a limited amount of information over a short period of time.
  • Working Memory or Operative memory: An active process that allows you to manipulate and work with the information in short-term memory.
  • Long-term memory: Retains a virtually infinite amount of information, part of which comes from short-term memory, over an indefinite amount of time.

Information can pass through various different stages on its way to either being stored or forgotten:

  • We perceive the information that is received by sensory memory (senses).
  • From there, our short-term memory retains the information over a short period of time.
  • The information may be manipulated (organized). Here is where long-term memory intervenes. This step does not always occur.
  • In the last stage, the brain must decide whether or not the information is relevant and should be remembered, or if it is irrelevant and should be forgotten. If the information is important, the memory will be passed on to long-term memory.

If short-term memory is damaged, the systems that depend on it will be altered, like working memory and long-term memory. If you are not able to retain information from short-term memory, operative (working) memory will not able to properly manipulate this information. With respect to long-term memory, new memories will be affected, as the information passed from short-term memory to long-term memory will be altered. However, it is possible to recover memories previously stored in long-term memory.

Examples of short-term memory

  • In order to understand a long sentence in a conversation, you need to remember the first part of the sentence in order to understand its entirety. Short-term memory is the mechanism that allows you to temporarily remember the beginning of the sentence. Once you've understood the information, it's not necessary to remember this information, and the brain forgets the words.
  • When you read, your short-term memory acts similarly to the previous example. You will need to remember the beginning of a written sentence or idea in order to understand the entire thought. It will be much more difficult to remember a long, complex sentence than a short and simple one. This, understandably, plays a large role in academic settings. A good short-term memory is related to reading comprehension, which is fundamental for academic success.
  • When someone says a phone number, your short-term memory is working from the time you hear it to when you write it down.
  • In general, long-term memory requires the previous activation of short-term memory. When you try to learn a lesson from a book, memorize a password, or remember few lines of a poem, you're using your short-term memory.

Pathologies and disorders associated with short-term memory

If the different types of memory weren't independent, all of the systems would fail if one of the types of memory was damaged or altered. Luckily, the brain dedicates different areas to different types of memory, which means that an alteration in long-term memory won't affect short-term memory. In general, all of the different types of memory work together, and it would be difficult to find the point where one type of memory ends and another begins. However, when one of them is damaged, the brain is unable to do its job and suffers significantly when performing day-to-day tasks.

An alteration in short-term memory can affect both how long information is held, as well as the amount of information that is retained. In the case of a mild alteration, the amount of time that the information is retained may be affected, which would be considered a "little visible" damage (retain information 15 seconds rather than 30). However, a severe alteration may almost completely destroy the mechanism of short-term memory .

Short-term memory can be damaged in a variety of ways. As we mentioned earlier, it is altered in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, along with long-term memory. Short-term memory has also been shown to play a role in dyslexia, as the difficulty to store phonological information may lead to problems learning to read. Consuming excess marijuana is another factor that has shown to affect short-term memory, as well as brain damage due to stroke or brain trauma.

How can you measure and assess short-term memory?

Short-term memory plays a large role in the majority of daily activities. Our ability to appropriately interact with our environment and the people that surround us depends directly on short-term memory. This is one of the reasons why evaluating your short-term memory and knowing your cognitive level can be helpful in a variety of different areas: Academic- will help you understand if a child has trouble learning to read or understanding long or complex sentences. Medical- helps understand how to talk to patients, if you need to give basic instructions, if they will have trouble remembering a medication/diagnosis. Professional- short-term memory can serve as an indicator of how easily a worker will internalize and work with complex orders.

CogniFit's tests to assess short-term memory were inspired by the Direct and Indirect Digits Test from the WMS (Wechsler Memory Scale), the CPT (Continuous Performance Test), TOMM (Test of Memory Malingering), and TOL (Tower of London) tests. Aside from short-term memory, these tests also measure spatial perception, processing speed, and working memory.

  • Sequencing Test WOM-ASM: You will see a series of balls on the screen. The user will have to memorize the series of numbers and repeat the sequence. The sequence will first be made of just one number, and will increase by one number each time until the user makes a mistake. The user will have to repeat the sequence after each presentation.
  • Concentration Test VISMEN-PLAN: A series of three objects will appear on the screen, and the user must remember the order in which they appeared. The objects will disappear, and the user will have to remember the series in order to choose the correct option on the screen.

How can you rehabilitate or improve short-term memory

Just like all of our cognitive abilities, short-term memory can be trained and improved. CogniFit makes it possible to follow a professional training program.

Short-term memory rehabilitation is based on the science of neuroplasticity. CogniFit offers a battery of clinical exercises designed to rehabilitate and improve problems with short-term memory and other cognitive functions. The brain and its neural connections become stronger with use, just like the body's muscles. If you frequently train your short-term memory, the connections will be quicker and more efficient, which will improve its overall ability.

The scientific team at CogniFit is made up of professionals specialized in the study of synaptic plasticity and the process of neurogenesis, which is what makes the personalized cognitive stimulation program effective. The program starts with a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to assess short-term memory and other fundamental cognitive functions. The program them automatically uses the results from the initial assessment to create a personalized brain training program specific to the needs of each user.

Consistently training with the right training program is the best way to improve short-term memory. CogniFit has assessment and rehabilitation tools to optimize this cognitive function. Training only takes 15 minutes 2-3 days a week.

You can get access to the cognitive stimulation program from CogniFit online There are a number of interactive games and exercises that can be done on the computer or on mobile devices and tablets. After each session, the user will see a detailed graph with their cognitive progress.

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