Salient cues improve prospective remembering in Korsakoff's syndrome

Mareike Altgassen, Laura Ariese, Arie J Wester, Roy P C Kessels
British Journal of Clinical Psychology 2016, 55 (2): 123-36

OBJECTIVE: Korsakoff's syndrome is characterized by deficits in episodic memory and executive functions. Both cognitive functions are needed to remember to execute delayed intentions (prospective memory, PM), an ability that is crucial for independent living in everyday life. So far, PM has only been targeted by one study in Korsakoff's syndrome. This study explored the effects of executive control demands on PM to shed further light on a possible interdependence of memory and executive functions in Korsakoff's syndrome,

METHOD: Twenty-five individuals with Korsakoff's syndrome and 23 chronic alcoholics (without amnesia) performed a categorization task into which a PM task was embedded that put either high or low demands on executive control processes (using low vs. high salient cues).

RESULTS: Overall, Korsakoff patients had fewer PM hits than alcoholic controls. Across groups, participants had fewer PM hits when cues were low salient as compared to high salient. Korsakoff patients performed better on PM when highly salient cues were presented than cues of low salience, while there were no differential effects for alcoholic controls.

CONCLUSIONS: While overall Korsakoff patients' showed a global PM deficit, the extent of this deficit was moderated by the executive control demands of the task applied. This indicated further support for an interrelation of executive functions and memory performance in Korsakoff.

PRACTITIONER POINTS: Positive clinical implications of the work Prospective memory (PM) performance in Korsakoff's syndrome is related to executive control load. Increasing cues' salience improves PM performance in Korsakoff's syndrome. Salient visual aids may be used in everyday life to improve Korsakoff individuals' planning and organization skills. Cautions or limitations of the study Results were obtained in a structured laboratory setting and need to be replicated in a more naturalistic setting to assess their transferability to everyday life. Given the relatively small sample size, individual predictors of PM performance should be determined in larger samples.

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