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Spaced Retrieval Technique

Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLP

November 30, 2020



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.




megan l malone

Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLP

Megan Malone is a speech-language pathologist working as a clinical faculty member in Kent State University's Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology and as a clinician and consultant in home health care. She previously worked for 9 years as a senior research associate and lead trainer at Myers Research Institute, in Cleveland, OH where she oversaw federally/privately funded grants focused on implementing interventions with older adults with dementia. She is the co-author of the book, Here's How to Treat Dementia (Plural Publishing, 2013), has spoken numerous times at the annual conventions of the American Speech and Hearing Association, Gerontological Society of America, American Society on Aging, and the Alzheimer's Association, along with several state speech and hearing conventions. She has published articles in the Journal of Communication Disorders, Alzheimer's Care Quarterly, The Gerontologist, and Dementia.

Related Courses

The Spaced Retrieval Technique: A How-To for PTs
Presented by Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLP
Recorded Webinar


Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLP
Course: #3782Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'concise info well presented and with examples'   Read Reviews
This course will provide an overview of the spaced retrieval technique, which is a cognitive intervention that can improve recall of functional information. Participants will learn the evidence behind this technique as well as how to implement it in therapy sessions. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT/PTA.

Alzheimer's 101: An Overview for Healthcare Professionals
Presented by Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLP, Jennifer Loehr, MA, CCC-SLP
Recorded Webinar


Megan L. Malone, MA, CCC-SLPJennifer Loehr, MA, CCC-SLP
Course: #3127Level: Introductory2 Hours
  'personal experience'   Read Reviews
This course will provide an overview for the healthcare professional about Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Participants will learn strategies related to improving communication with patients and families, understanding and managing behavioral challenges, and promoting independence.

Put Down the Drugs: Evidence-Based Interventions to Reduce Unwanted Behaviors with Dementia
Presented by Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, OTR/L
Recorded Webinar


Kathleen D. Weissberg, OTD, OTR/L, CMDCP, CDP, OTR/L
Course: #3072Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Great information and good presenter!'   Read Reviews
PTs can apply evidence-based interventions to improve dementia care. This session reviews the etiology of common behaviors. Cognitive-emotion, multi-sensory, animal-assisted, and exercise interventions to reduce agitation are discussed as well as specific strategies for improving task-related engagement. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT and PTA.

Strategies for Treating Patients With Neurobehavioral Disorders
Presented by Kelli Broussard, MS, CCC-SLP, Kelly Ramsey, MS, CCC-SLP
Recorded Webinar


Kelli Broussard, MS, CCC-SLPKelly Ramsey, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #3074Level: Introductory2 Hours
  'great course'   Read Reviews
This course will provide an overview of neurobehavioral disorders and their impact on function and community re-entry. The course will provide functional strategies to improve the effectiveness of treatment sessions when working with individuals who have behavioral deficits. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT and PTA.

The Science of Fall Prevention
Presented by Mike Studer, PT, DPT, MHS, NCS, CEEAA, CWT, CSST, BFPCE, FAPTA
Recorded Webinar


Course: #2825Level: Intermediate2 Hours
  'Good review of the volume of balance tests at there and what each is for'   Read Reviews
What is the difference between screening and testing? What is the science of imbalance? What are the differences between unsteadiness, imbalance, dizziness, lightheadedness, and vertigo? How do I document to prove my worth, my role, or this patient’s potential? What is the evidence for helping someone improve balance? What is the best method to select the most sensitive and responsive balance test for each patient? What psychological influences could be involved with this person? The answers to these questions and more are in this seminar intended for advanced dizziness management- differential diagnostics and treatment. Expect practical techniques, readily applied to the clinic, incorporating current evidence and revealing future advances in balance and dizziness rehabilitation. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT and PTA.

Editor's Note: Regarding Pennsylvania credits, this course is approved by the PA State Board of Physical Therapy for 1 hour of general and 1 hour of Direct Access CE credit.

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