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Memory-enhancing intervention may help boost confidence, not necessarily memory, in older adults, study suggests



A novel approach aimed at enhancing everyday memory may lead older adults to feel more confident that they can accurately recollect phone numbers, names, and other information, according to findings from a small randomized controlled trial that were presented at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

The tool, called Everyday Memory and Metacognitive Intervention (EMMI), trains people to be more mindful of memories, like where they parked their car, by repeating information at increasing intervals and self-testing.

EMMI “is a very important approach, focused on everyday memory,” said George W. Rebok, PhD, professor emeritus in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, who was not involved with the study. “Many times, when we do memory interventions, we only focus on improving objective memories,” such as recalling major life events or one-time occurrences.

Everyday memory was defined as recalling basic facts including names, phone numbers, and daily appointments. The research, led by Ann Pearman, MD, associate director of adult psychology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine at MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio, expanded on previous work she conducted with colleagues. That study found that EMMI may help improve confidence in the ability to recollect information and functional independence among older adults.

The current study was of 62 of the same participants in the earlier research, with one group that received EMMI (n = 30) and another that underwent traditional memory strategy training ([MSC]; n = 32). Both groups underwent four 3-hour virtual training sessions in their designated intervention over 2 weeks.

“One of the most important parts of the study is the [training] period,” when participants build new habits to help recall their everyday memories, Dr. Pearman said.

For 7 weeks, participants reported errors in everyday memories on a smartphone and submitted diary entries for each. Dr. Rebok that said tracking can help identify patterns or circumstances under which a person is likely to experience a memory lapse.

The study found mixed results when comparing EMMI with MSC, with the latter group demonstrating greater improvements in associative memory, such as pairing of a name to a face, highlighting the effectiveness of traditional MCS.

However, participants who underwent EMMI reported an increase in self-confidence that they were able to remember things, compared with those in the MSC group (4.92, confidence interval 95%, P = .30).

The EMMI intervention also was not uniformly effective in reducing memory errors across all participants in the group, which is to be expected, experts note. “In memory training, as with any kind of cognitive training, one size doesn’t fit all,” Dr. Rebok said.

“The mixed findings may highlight the need for a holistic approach to memory improvement and brain health, especially in older adults,” said Krystal L. Culler, DBH, founder of the Virtual Brain Health Center in Cleveland, who was not involved with the study.

EMMI could potentially be part of a broader strategy that includes lifestyle factors like sleep hygiene, physical exercise, diet, and social engagement to support optimal memory care, Dr. Culler said.

Patients who noticed some change in their memory and who are interested in making some positive changes in their daily cognitive functioning may benefit most from EMMI, according to Dr. Pearman.

“Making proactive decisions about memory challenges [patients] in their thinking and doing in everyday life,” she said.

Dr. Pearman shared that she and her colleagues are now looking into a combined EMMI and traditional memory strategy training to maximize the benefits of both interventions.

The study was supported by the Retirement Research Foundation (2018-2019); and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (P30DK111024) from the Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research. The study authors report no relevant conflicts. Dr. Culler and Dr. Rebok report no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on

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