Cognitive procedural learning in early Alzheimer's disease: impaired processes and compensatory mechanisms

J Neuropsychol. 2012 Mar;6(1):31-42. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02002.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.


Introduction: The aim of this study was to study cognitive procedural learning in early Alzheimer's disease (AD).

Methods: Cognitive procedural learning was assessed using the Tower of Hanoi (TH) task. In order to take account of possible interactions between different systems during cognitive procedural learning, we also measured non-verbal intellectual functions, working memory, and declarative memory.

Results: Our results showed an apparent preservation of cognitive procedural learning in AD and a deleterious effect of the disease on verbal intelligence and declarative memory. Correlational analyses revealed a difference between AD patients and control participants in the type of processing they applied to the task.

Conclusion: The non-involvement of declarative memory would appear to be partly responsible for a slowdown in the cognitive procedural dynamics of AD patients. As the AD patients were unable to use their declarative memory, they were still in a problem-solving mode at the end of the learning protocol and had to implement higher order cognitive processes (i.e., compensatory mechanisms) to perform the procedural task.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory, Long-Term
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance