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Brain Lang. 2001 Jul;78(1):17-42.

Assessing working memory and language comprehension in Alzheimer's disease.

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


Studies of language impairments in patients with Alzheimer's disease have often assumed that impairments in linguistic working memory underlie comprehension deficits. Assessment of this hypothesis has been hindered both by vagueness of key terms such as "working memory" and by limitations of available working memory tasks, in that many such tasks either seem to have little relationship to language comprehension or are too confusing or difficult for Alzheimer's patients. Four experiments investigated the usefulness of digit ordering, a new task assessing linguistic working memory and/or language processing skill, in normal adults and patients with probable Alzheimer's disease. The digit ordering task was shown to be strongly correlated with the degree of dementia in Alzheimer's patients. The task correlated with measures of language processing on which patients and normal controls performed differently. The results are interpreted as indicating that linguistic representations, linguistic processing, and linguistic working memory are intertwined, such that a deficit of one (e.g., working memory) cannot be said to "cause" a deficit in the other. The implications of this approach are explored in terms of task demands in comprehension and memory measures, and interpretation of previous results in the literature.

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