Spaced retrieval (SR) is a technique that can be used by anyone to facilitate the learning/retrieval of distinct pieces of information with someone who has mild memory/cognitive issues. The technique requires an individual to recall a single piece of information over progressively longer periods of time until the information is integrated into the individual’s long term memory. The SR technique can be used in a variety of settings and serves as a specific intervention technique for people who have mild memory/cognitive deficits.
The SR technique begins with presenting the specific piece of information you are trying to get the person to remember (ex. locking of wheelchair brakes prior to standing). You tell the person what you want them to remember and let them know that you are going to periodically ask them to tell you what they are to remember. Make sure the person is able to immediately repeat the correct information back to you (ex. I am to lock my breaks prior to standing up). The SR technique is used to assess the accurate recall of new information on a specific fixed interval pattern whereby the time in which the information is recalled is doubled after each successfully completed recall. This interval pattern is as follows:
30 seconds; 1 minute; 2 minutes; 4 minutes; 8 minutes; 16 minutes; fully integrated.
Using the wheelchair brake example, a person would be told what they are to remember and verification is made that they are able to correctly repeat it back. After 30 seconds, the person would be asked to tell you what they are to remember (what are you supposed to do prior to standing from your wheelchair?). If they are able to give the information to be remembered correctly, then at one minute they would be asked again and the process would continue following the interval pattern. If the person is able to recall the information correctly after 16 minutes it is generally considered to be fully integrated into long term memory. Note: The person should be engaged in other activities/conversation during the interval periods.
If the person is unable to recall the information correctly at one of the intervals, the process is taken back to the last successful interval (ex. cannot remember at 8 minutes but could at 4 minutes, go back to 4 minutes to assess). Hold at this interval for several trials and then proceed to the next interval.
In the event a person cannot achieve 16 minutes (full integration) over consistent trials, the information cannot be considered learned/integrated and other techniques to recall the information will need to be used (ex. signage, etc.).