This study measured episodic memory deficits in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as a function of their vascular burden. Vascular burden was determined clinically by computing the number of vascular risk factors and diseases and neuroradiologically by assessing the presence and severity of white matter lesions (WML). Strategic memory processes were measured with free recall and temporal contextual memory tasks requiring self-initiated retrieval. Nonstrategic memory retrieval processes were appraised with a five-choice recognition procedure. Results showed that MCI participants with high vascular burden displayed impairment of strategic memory processes, whereas MCI participants with no vascular burden showed impairment of both strategic and nonstrategic memory processes. A similar pattern was found whether vascular burden was measured using a clinical index of vascular risk profile or whether it was measured neuroradiologically by assessing the extent and severity of subcortical WML. However, the effect of WML on memory differed as function of level of education, used here as a proxy for cognitive reserve. Among participants with MCI, those who had higher education and no WML were the least memory impaired. The study also examined memory as a function of whether patients later progressed to dementia after a three-year follow-up. When examining progressors' performance, strategic and nonstrategic processes were both impaired in progressors with no concomitant vascular conditions, whereas progressors with a high vascular burden showed less impairment of nonstrategic than strategic processes. Overall, results indicate that the presence of vascular burden in MCI is associated with selective impairment of strategic memory processes.
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