Effects of a computerized working memory training program on working memory, attention, and academics in adolescents with severe LD and comorbid ADHD: a randomized controlled trial


  • Conflicts of interest statement: Cogmed America provided the software licenses without cost to the study. Dr. Tannock’s current and past 3-year involvement with industry is as a consultant for Eli Lilly, Shire Pharmaceuticals, Janssen-Cilag, and Purdue University for which she has received honoraria (less than US $10,000 per year, all of which is donated to The Hospital for Sick Children’s Foundation to support ADHD research).


Background:  Youths with coexisting learning disabilities (LD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at risk for poor academic and social outcomes. The underlying cognitive deficits, such as poor working memory (WM), are not well targeted by current treatments for either LD or ADHD. Emerging evidence suggests that WM might be improved by intensive and adaptive computerized training, but it remains unclear whether this intervention would be effective for adolescents with severe LD and comorbid ADHD.

Methods:  A total of sixty 12- to 17-year olds with LD/ADHD (52 male, 8 female, IQ > 80) were randomized to one of two computerized intervention programs: working memory training (Cogmed RM) or math training (Academy of Math) and evaluated before and 3 weeks after completion. The criterion measures of WM included auditory-verbal and visual-spatial tasks. Near and far transfer measures included indices of cognitive and behavioral attention and academic achievement.

Results:  Adolescents in the WM training group showed greater improvements in a subset of WM criterion measures compared with those in the math-training group, but no training effects were observed on the near or far measures. Those who showed the most improvement on the WM training tasks at school were rated as less inattentive/hyperactive at home by parents.

Conclusions:  Results suggest that WM training may enhance some aspects of WM in youths with LD/ADHD, but further development of the training program is required to promote transfer effects to other domains of function.