What's a good computer program for improving ADHD / working memory?
January 18, 2018 1:28 PM   Subscribe

My ADHD is a constant problem in my life, and I expect that will continue, but I've heard that there is software that can improve working memory and that, in turn, can improve ADHD over a course of five or six weeks. I'd like to try this! Do you have any recommendations for software?
posted by Alex Haist to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard recently of some programs that use webcam or other feedback to determine when your attention is wandering.
The basic idea, as I understand it, is that you watch a video through a special software player that pauses the playback when your attention fades. The idea is to create more self-awareness of when your attention is failing you, so that you can apply yourself.
I may be trying one soon, but it is based on a headband that can detect from brain activity when you lose focus.
I am a bit skeptical of either approach, but open minded enough to try.
I am sorry that I don't have specific product names though.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 2:33 PM on January 18, 2018

I'd be very, very skeptical of anything making claims in this space. There have been various brain games in the last few years that were sold with the claim that they improved your cognitive abilities / improved your vision / improved your attention, and the FTC hammered most of the actors in that space back in 2015-16.

The "let's monitor you with your webcam to keep your eyes onscreen" idea is actually a scientifically decent one: it's not a good measure of attention, it's a measure of gaze and head position. Whether it's useful or not is debatable, but it probably would train you to keep your eyes on the screen.

The headband / cap versions are an entirely different thing: those are low-channel EEG devices (usually, EEG in laboratory settings uses a bunch of electrodes across the scalp to get signals, these devices use between three and fifteen). The validity of these devices is going to be shaky at best, for a whole variety of reasons.

So, unless there's actual rigorous testing behind the claim for anything in this space (device, game, app), be extremely skeptical.

(This isn't my area of research, but it's very close to it, and there's nothing in this space that isn't, at best, a thin veneer of science-speak over unvalidated junk claims.)
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 3:03 PM on January 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: A doctor's office that focuses on attention and memory offers working memory training. I had the thought, well, I can do software on my own and not pay $750. This is the write up for the program that they use: Cogmed Evidence
posted by Alex Haist at 4:18 PM on January 18, 2018

I wouldn't bother trying to replicate their software. A quick poke at Google Scholar for Cogmed Working Memory Training says that while it's been studied pretty extensively, the effects are weak at best. Save your money.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 4:27 PM on January 18, 2018

You might be thinking of the dual N-back test in particular, which has led to contradictory findings on its effectiveness in improving working memory, and it sounds like the effect size is small to boot. If you want to try it, though, there are a lot of freely accessible web versions that seem to replicate the test administered by the original researchers.
posted by invitapriore at 4:44 PM on January 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I share everyone's scepticism about that software. Furthermore, after years of therapy, I'm by now firmly convinced that medical science is pretty clueless about how the ADHD brain works, and they don't have much more to offer us than prescription stimulants and moral support. When it comes to these kinds of tools, I think we're better off trying to develop personal skills to suit our quirky wiring instead of looking for quick fixes. This means first learning how our attention works from the inside out, and then finding ways to apply that knowledge in real life.

With that in mind, here's what I've been trying lately. Apologies in advance if the upcoming ramble isn't quite what you're looking for, but the project is a work in progress and the answer is an act of creative self help. If I put here I know I'll be able to find it later.

1. Actively monitoring different states of awareness as I go about my day. Noticing when I'm focused, and when my mind wanders. Noticing what happens when I "switch" - particularly between attention to detail and the bigger picture. Finding ways to describe how this works. This is mindfulness at its most basic, but if it feels a bit alien, you could start with a guided meditation to get into the habit of "observing" your attention.

2. Investigating how my attention might be affected by factors such as sleep, exercise, food, medication etc. Searching for patterns, such as OCD behaviour, mood swings etc. Looking for predictors and triggers for anxiety, avoidance etc. It helps to document these, so I like to keep a notebook handy.

3. Using what I know about my attention and habits to propose strategies for managing tasks which would be impossible otherwise. Chances are you have a few of this already, so you can learn from those. For instance, I used to loose my wallet and keys all the time, so now I tie them all together on a carabiner. I'm obsessive about organising handbags and packing suitcases. And I'm ninja at remembering shopping lists when I know what I'm going to cook.

4. Trying out new ways of approaching tasks which depend on things I don't do well, like monotonous detail. Some of these are learned skills that I can do on autopilot while I allow myself to daydream. Identifying areas where working memory is a problem and designing transparent workarounds (see keys and handbag, above).

So that's my basic philosophy right now. With regards to working memory, I've noticed that simply being aware of how my mind is processing information makes it easier for me to recognise when a piece of data coming my way is important, and that it needs to be committed, rather than just another floater in the gestalt soup I'm splashing about in most of the time.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:05 AM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've heard that there is software that can improve working memory and that, in turn, can improve ADHD over a course of five or six weeks.

Nthing that this is a sales pitch, not a medical claim.

BUT I will say from totally personal anecdotal experience that I have found some of the memory/focus/spatial awareness games to be helpful as a coping mechanism. If I'm heading toward a noisybrain panic loop at work, sometimes taking a five-minute break to play one of those guys gives me a finite thing on which to focus, breathe, and get a bump of accomplishment at doing the thing.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, shoot. I was hoping not for a quick fix, but for a sustainable "neuron building" practice. It's sounding like the science isn't there, though. Thanks for your help, guys!
posted by Alex Haist at 8:23 AM on February 8, 2018

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