Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2009

Thesis Advisor(s)

Peter Snyder

Honors Major

Psychology

Disciplines

Biological Psychology | Cognition and Perception | Mental Disorders | Other Psychology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes

Abstract

Mild Cognitive Impairment- Amnestic Subtype (MCIa) is a putative prodromal stage of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) characterized by focal deficits in episodic verbal memory. Less is known about relative deficits in visuospatial learning, although there is ample evidence indicating involvement of the hippocampus in visuospatial learning, as well as hippocampal degeneration in early AD. The aim of this study was to better characterize the components of working memory dysfunction in people with MCIa to increase the ability to reliably diagnose this disease. Fifty-six elderly adults diagnosed with MCIa and 94 healthy elderly completed a hidden maze learning task. Results indicated similar functioning between groups on measures of reasoning, problem solving, and accuracy. However, MCIa subjects were less efficient at learning the hidden path, making more errors per second on average (Cohen’s d= -.78) and requiring a longer time to complete the maze (Cohen’s d=.77). The learning curve between the first two trials was four times as steep for healthy elderly compared to MCIa (slopes = 4.9 vs. 1.24, respectively), indicating that MCIa subjects exhibited relative difficulty in holding and making effective use of an internal spatial map in order to improve performance. Our results suggest that MCIa patients have focal deficits in visuospatial working memory, with relative preservation of functioning on other more global measures of cognitive functioning. This particular pattern of results may be specific to the amnestic variant of MCI.