Acquisition of an instrumental activity of daily living in patients with Korsakoff's syndrome: a comparison of trial and error and errorless learning

Erik Oudman, Tanja C W Nijboer, Albert Postma, Jan W Wijnia, Sandra Kerklaan, Karen Lindsen, Stefan Van der Stigchel
Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 2013, 23 (6): 888-913
Patients with Korsakoff's syndrome show devastating amnesia and executive deficits. Consequently, the ability to perform instrumental activities such as making coffee is frequently diminished. It is currently unknown whether patients with Korsakoff's syndrome are able to (re)learn instrumental activities. A good candidate for an effective teaching technique in Korsakoff's syndrome is errorless learning as it is based on intact implicit memory functioning. Therefore, the aim of the current study was two-fold: to investigate whether patients with Korsakoff's syndrome are able to (re)learn instrumental activities, and to compare the effectiveness of errorless learning with trial and error learning in the acquisition and maintenance of an instrumental activity, namely using a washing machine to do the laundry. Whereas initial learning performance in the errorless learning condition was superior, both intervention techniques resulted in similar improvement over eight learning sessions. Moreover, performance in a different spatial layout showed a comparable improvement. Notably, in follow-up sessions starting after four weeks without practice, performance was still elevated in the errorless learning condition, but not in the trial and error condition. The current study demonstrates that (re)learning and maintenance of an instrumental activity is possible in patients with Korsakoff's syndrome.

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