Study: Word recall a complex problem among those with early-stage Alzheimer's

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A new study finds that people with early-stage Alzheimer's disease have difficulty discerning between important and unimportant information—a revelation that could help improve memory-training efforts.

Study participants were arranged into several groups that spanned the age and health gamut. The largest cohort comprised 109 healthy seniors with an average age of 75. There were also adults with very early stage Alzheimer's, adults with mild Alzheimer's, and young adults. Participants were asked to recall a series of neutral words, each of which was randomly assigned a point value. Those with Alzheimer's performed much less efficiently when it came to picking out the high-value words than the healthier groups. This suggests that people with early-stage Alzheimer's lack the ability to strategically encode information, which affects their ability to turn new and important information into long-term memories, study authors say.

The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis also discovered that, while healthy older people remembered fewer words than younger people, they did place more emphasis on the high-value words. Such strategic value-based learning could be employed to train people with early-stage Alzheimer's disease to retain and recall more of the important information as their memories decline over time, study authors suggest. The full report appears in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.