What is spaced retrieval and who can benefit from it?
Spaced retrieval is a cognitive-communicative training strategy used to teach individuals with dementia to retain and recall new information utilizing procedural memory and the concept of errorless learning. This means that you do not allow the person to make a mistake. You do not want them to learn the wrong information. You want to supply them with the correct information. Spaced retrieval essentially is the systematic pairing of verbal information or a strategy with a motor response. It has sequential steps. You might start with giving the individual the information and being very consistent with it. You might have them retain it for 30 seconds. Then you go to a minute, and then you keep doubling the retention time (2 minutes, 4 minutes, etc.). If they make a mistake, you go back a level. If at one minute they cannot remember it, you would go back to a 30-second interval. If they are at a two-minute interval and they do not remember it, you go back to a one-minute duration, then two minutes again; and if they get it correct then, you would go to four minutes. You are trying to teach the verbal information or strategy so they can retain it across sessions and utilize it in activities of daily living.
Spaced retrieval can be used with people with varying levels of function. The treatment has to be consistent and frequent. It might be something where you do shorter sessions multiple times in a day, versus one long session. You have to be very consistent with the prompts in spaced retrieval, and the errorless learning is important. You do not want them to give you the wrong information. As soon as they do, you must correct that. You do not let them continue to make the same mistake, because you do not want them to learn the wrong information. You want to give them the correct information so they can learn it.
Mary Beth is an Associate Professor at Edinboro University. Her teaching and research interests include adult neurogenic communication disorders, semantic feature knowledge in adults, gerontology, and professional issues. She serves as Associate Coordinator for ASHA SIG 15 Gerontology and PSHA Vice President for Convention Planning and Program.