What is the Spaced Retrieval Technique and how can it be used in physical therapy treatment?
The spaced retrieval technique is a technique used to help persons with cognitive impairments recall important information over progressively longer intervals of time. That's the "spaced" in spaced retrieval. We're spacing out the time intervals (the time) between practice in order for that information to be encoded and retrieved better.
Spaced retrieval was first used to address face-name learning in non-impaired individuals. Initially, the research was with university-aged students and they were being tested to remember the name of a person in a picture and they were comparing the use of spacing out the retrieval of that information versus regular rehearsal that we all typically employ when we want to remember something ie. saying that name over and over again. The goal of that research was to determine if there was a difference in how well the students retained the names of the people in the pictures using those different strategies. The research found that the students were able to retain the names of the people they were shown pictures of better when they were gradually shown the pictures and given the names and practiced it that way versus kind of that typical rehearsal that we all do. Unfortunately, what sometimes happens with great research is it gets written up and then it kind of gets put in a drawer until someone picks it up and uses it in a different way. In the late eighties, my mentor, Dr. Cameron Camp started to look at how to use this technique in a rehab context. The technique is now being used successfully with persons with Alzheimer's disease, TBI, Parkinson's, dementia related to HIV.
Spaced retrieval is an effective tool that therapists can use to help clients reach their goals and rehab therapy and it's also billable and reimbursable. It can also be used in the context of the actual portion of a goal to help people retain information. It takes advantage of the procedural memory system and it's very success based. The goal of using this technique is to enable individuals to remember information for long periods of time so that they can achieve long-term treatment goals. The key is that the therapists teach clients strategies that compensate for memory impairment using procedural memory, including reading and that repetitive priming, We also use external aids to compensate. Spaced retrieval can definitely be a tool in the toolbox to help patients remember information that you're teaching them and that may help them meet your goals as well.
To perform you begin with a prompt question for the target behavior and teach the client to recall the correct answer. When retrieval is successful, the interval preceding the next recall test is increased. If a recall failure occurs, the participant is told the correct response and asked to repeat. The following interval length returns to the last interval at which recall was successful.
To learn more about this technique including case studies and further how to perform, please check out the course, The Spaced Retrieval Technique: A How-To for PTs.