Ask the BCAT Faculty: The Linking Phrase Exercise in the Working Memory Exercise Book (WMEB)
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I’m a speech therapist, and I use the WMEB almost every day to help my patients improve cognitive communication and basic memory.  The Linking Phrase Exercise is one of my favorites. I’ve gotten very good results with it, especially with my stroke patients.  As a speech therapist, it makes intuitive sense to me that language could be used to improve visual memory, but I’m not sure I understand how it works. Thanks!


Houston, TX

BCAT Faculty Answer:

Thank you for your question, Melanie. The Linking Phrase Exercise was conceived of by the BCAT team a few years ago and then tested for effectiveness with subacute rehab patients.  The primary goal of this exercise is to improve functioning and independence by strengthening working memory.  The Linking Phrase Exercise does this in a unique way, by using language to improve visual memory skills.  Conversely, we found that pairing visual images with words tended to strengthen verbal recall.  So, you can us the Linking Phrase Exercise bi-directionally. 

In the Linking Phrase Exercise, the patient is visually presented with two images and a “linking phrase.”  The two images are not thematically similar, but they are conceptually linked by the phrase.  We believe that what makes this exercise effective is that it recruits different parts of the brain (language and visual centers) and provides an associated context to strengthen and increase the recall potential of the memory.

A number of studies support the idea that visual memory for objects can be improved by verbal descriptors.  For example, Brown & Lloyd-Jones (2006) found that when people used verbal descriptors, their ability to recall faces improved. Given that dementia can be associated with impaired facial recognition, The Linking Phrase Exercise might have a direct application with faces.  In patients who still possess basic language skills, the ability to recognize a caregiver, independent of whether the patient recalls the caregiver’s name, could be enhanced when words are paired with facial cues. To test this, take a picture of a new caregiver.  Give the picture to the patient and ask her to describe the picture using a few descriptive words (red hair, glasses, “about age 50”).  Repeat this exercise several times to help consolidate the memory.  You may find that not only will recognition of the caregiver improve, but the patient may become less anxious or agitated when the caregiver arrives.

Brown, C & Lloyd-Jones, TJ (2006). Beneficial effects of verbalization and visual distinctiveness on remembering and knowing faces. Memory & Cognition, 34(2), 277-286.


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