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Cortex. 2019 Dec;121:332-346. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2019.09.007. Epub 2019 Oct 4.

Using memories to support the self in Alzheimer's disease.

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Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK. Electronic address:
University of Reading, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, Reading, UK.
University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Oxford, UK.
LPNC, CNRS UMR 5015, Université Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble, France.
University of Oxford, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Oxford, UK; Department of Medicine, Pontificia Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


The impact of memory loss on the self in Alzheimer's disease (AD) is poorly understood. Previous research is mixed on whether episodic or semantic memories are most important for supporting identity. The present study examined autobiographical memories cued by self-images (e.g., I am a father) and non-self-related cues in 16 AD patients and 29 healthy older adults. The AD group generated fewer self-images and memories compared to controls, but demonstrated similar temporal organization of self-cued memories. In both groups, self-images were supported by semantic memories that were temporally clustered around times of identity-formation. These self-supporting memories are proposed to form a scaffold to support the self and may persist the longest in AD, as opposed to memories from early adulthood per se. In both AD and control groups, self-images cued more semantic memories than non-self-relevant cues, further suggesting that semantic autobiographical memories play a fundamental role in supporting the self. These findings demonstrate that the self remains largely intact in AD, in spite of severe episodic memory deficits and global cognitive decline. In later stages of the disease, these self-supporting memories could provide effective tools for reminiscence therapy.


Autobiographical memory; Dementia; Episodic; Identity; Semantic

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