JOURNAL ARTICLE

Ill-defined problem solving in amnestic mild cognitive impairment: linking episodic memory to effective solution generation

S Sheldon, S Vandermorris, M Al-Haj, S Cohen, G Winocur, M Moscovitch
Neuropsychologia 2015, 68: 168-75
25575452
It is well accepted that the medial temporal lobes (MTL), and the hippocampus specifically, support episodic memory processes. Emerging evidence suggests that these processes also support the ability to effectively solve ill-defined problems which are those that do not have a set routine or solution. To test the relation between episodic memory and problem solving, we examined the ability of individuals with single domain amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), a condition characterized by episodic memory impairment, to solve ill-defined social problems. Participants with aMCI and age and education matched controls were given a battery of tests that included standardized neuropsychological measures, the Autobiographical Interview (Levine et al., 2002) that scored for episodic content in descriptions of past personal events, and a measure of ill-defined social problem solving. Corroborating previous findings, the aMCI group generated less episodically rich narratives when describing past events. Individuals with aMCI also generated less effective solutions when solving ill-defined problems compared to the control participants. Correlation analyses demonstrated that the ability to recall episodic elements from autobiographical memories was positively related to the ability to effectively solve ill-defined problems. The ability to solve these ill-defined problems was related to measures of activities of daily living. In conjunction with previous reports, the results of the present study point to a new functional role of episodic memory in ill-defined goal-directed behavior and other non-memory tasks that require flexible thinking. Our findings also have implications for the cognitive and behavioural profile of aMCI by suggesting that the ability to effectively solve ill-defined problems is related to sustained functional independence.

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