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Assessment of verbal and visuospatial working memory in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia

Roy P C Kessels, Anouk Overbeek, Zita Bouman
Dementia & Neuropsychologia 2015, 9 (3): 301-305

In addition to episodic memory impairment, working memory may also be compromised in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer's dementia (AD), but standard verbal and visuospatial span tasks do not always detect impairments.

Objective: To examine whether more complex verbal and visuospatial working memory tasks result in more reliable impairment detection.

Methods: The Digit Span (forward, backward and sequencing), Spatial Span (forward and backward) and Spatial Addition test from the Wechsler batteries were administered to MCI and AD patients and performance compared to healthy older adult controls.

Results: Results showed that both the MCI and AD patients had impaired performance on the Spatial Addition test. Both groups also had impaired performance on all three Digit Span conditions, but no differences were found between forward and backward conditions in any of the groups. The sequencing condition differed from the backward condition only in the AD group. Spatial Span performance was impaired in AD group patients but not in MCI patients.

Conclusion: Working memory deficits are evident in MCI and AD even on standard neuropsychological tests. However, available tests may not detect subtle impairments, especially in MCI. Novel paradigms tapping the episodic buffer component of working memory may be useful in the assessment of working memory deficits, but such instruments are not yet available for clinical assessment.


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