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Brain Lang. 1999 May;67(3):202-27.

Why do Alzheimer patients have difficulty with pronouns? Working memory, semantics, and reference in comprehension and production in Alzheimer's disease.

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Hedco Neuroscience Building, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90089-2520, USA.


Three experiments investigated the extent to which semantic and working-memory deficits contribute to Alzheimer patients' impairments in producing and comprehending referring expressions. In Experiment 1, the spontaneous speech of 11 patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) contained a greater ratio of pronouns to full noun phrases than did the spontaneous speech produced by 9 healthy controls. Experiments 2 and 3 used a cross-modal naming methodology to compare reference comprehension in another group of 10 patients and 10 age-matched controls. In Experiment 2, patients were less sensitive than healthy controls to the grammatical information necessary for processing pronouns. In Experiment 3, patients were better able to remember referent information in short paragraphs when reference was maintained with full noun phrases rather than pronouns, but healthy controls showed the reverse pattern. Performance in all three experiments was linked to working memory performance but not to word finding difficulty. We discuss these findings in terms of a theory of reference processing, the Informational Load Hypothesis, which views referential impairments in AD as the consequence of normal discourse processing in the context of a working memory impairment.

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