Purpose: Although most pediatric cancer patients survive, those who undergo anticancer treatments like chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy are at a high risk for late effects, such as cognitive deficits. To counteract these deficits, feasible and effective interventions are needed. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of working memory training, exergaming, and a wait-list control condition on cognitive functions in pediatric cancer survivors.
Methods: In a parallel-group randomized trial, 69 pediatric cancer survivors aged 7-16 yr (mean = 11.35, SD = 3.53) were randomly assigned to 8-wk working memory training, exergaming, or a wait-list control group. Each training course consisted of three 45-min training sessions per week. The primary outcome comprised the core executive functions (visual working memory, inhibition, switching), and the secondary outcomes included other cognitive domains (intelligence, planning, memory, attention, processing speed), motor abilities, and parent rating on their children's executive functions. Assessments were conducted both before and immediately after the interventions, and at 3-month follow-up.
Results: Linear mixed models revealed that participants in the working memory training group showed a linear improvement in visual working memory after training and at follow-up compared with the control group. No other intervention effects of either type of training could be detected.
Conclusion: This study presents evidence that working memory training improves visual working memory in pediatric cancer survivors. Results show that near-transfer, but no far-transfer effects can be expected from working memory training. Multiple-component interventions tailored to fit the individual's cognitive profile are needed to best support cognitive development after cancer and its treatment.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02749877.