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Neuropsychologia. 2008;46(7):2043-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.02.002. Epub 2008 Feb 8.

Impact of ambiguity and risk on decision making in mild Alzheimer's disease.

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Clinical Department of Neurology, Innsbruck Medical University, Anichstrasse 35, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.


Decisions under ambiguity and decisions under risk are crucial types of decision making in daily living at any age. This is the first study assessing these two types of decisions in patients with mild dementia of Alzheimer's type (DAT) by means of the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and a newly developed, Probability-Associated Gambling (PAG) task. While rules for gains and losses are implicit in the IGT, in the PAG task rules are explicit and winning probabilities, which change from trial to trial, can be estimated. Results of the IGT indicated that DAT patients made more disadvantageous decisions than healthy controls. Patients also shifted more frequently among decks, i.e. under ambiguity decisions were taken randomly and no advantageous strategy was established over time by DAT patients. Thus, not only actual choices but also development of advantageous strategies may be revealing about decision making in the IGT. Compared to controls, patients demonstrated less advantageous choices in the PAG task as well. They gambled more often in the low winning probabilities and less frequently in the high probabilities than healthy participants. Patients' performance on both tasks correlated with measures of executive functions. Findings of the present investigation are consistent with the early pathological cerebral changes and related (cognitive, emotional) deficits reported for DAT. As suggested by our study, decisions under ambiguity as well as decisions under risk are impaired in mild DAT. It may thus be expected that patients with mild DAT have difficulties in taking decisions in every-day life situations, both in cases of ambiguity (information on probability is missing or conflicting, and the expected utility of the different options is incalculable) and in cases of risk (outcomes can be predicted by well-defined or estimable probabilities).

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