Verbal and spatial memory spans in mild cognitive impairment

Objectives

Working memory (WM) for verbal and visual material may be affected early in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Verbal and visuospatial span tasks, that is neuropsychological procedures commonly used for the clinical assessment of WM, have been scarcely investigated in these patients. Therefore, this study was aimed at evaluating whether performance on tests of verbal and visual-spatial span (which rely to different extents on distinct components of the WM system) is differently sensitive to the presence of MCI and, in particular, of a preclinical AD condition in patients with MCI.

Materials & Methods

99 patients with amnesic MCI were given the Digit Span Forward (DSF) and Digit Span Backward (DSB) tests and the Corsi span task (CS) at baseline and were followed up for two years. 32 MCI patients converted to Alzheimer’s disease (MCIc), but 67 patients did not deteriorate to meet the criteria for AD (MCIs).

Results

Results showed that although performance on DSF did not differ between groups, performance on DSB and CS and ratio indexes indicative of a performance decline passing from DSF to DSB and from DSF to CS significantly discriminated between a group of matched healthy controls and the overall group of MCI patients. Moreover, the ratio indexes significantly discriminated between MCIc and MCIs individuals.

Conclusions

These data are consistent with the hypothesis that individuals with MCI, particularly those destined to convert to AD, are affected by reduced central executive resources even though the phonological loop is still functioning normally.

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