Cognitive rehabilitation changes memory-related brain activity in people with Alzheimer disease

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2013 Jun;27(5):448-59. doi: 10.1177/1545968312471902. Epub 2013 Jan 31.


Background: People with Alzheimer disease (AD) are capable of new learning when cognitive support is provided, suggesting that there is plasticity even in a degenerating brain. However, it is unclear how a cognition-focused intervention operates on a neural level.

Objective: The present study examined the effects of cognitive rehabilitation (CR) on memory-related brain activation in people with early-stage AD, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Methods: A total of 19 participants either received 8 weeks of CR treatment (n = 7) or formed a control group (n = 12). We scanned participants pretreatment and posttreatment while they learned and recognized unfamiliar face-name pairs.

Results: Following treatment, the CR group showed higher brain activation during recognition of face-name pairs in the left middle and inferior frontal gyri, the left insula, and 2s regions in the right medial parietal cortex. The control group showed decreased activation in these areas during recognition after the intervention period. Neither group showed an activation change during encoding. Behavioral performance on face-name learning did not improve for either group.

Conclusions: We suggest that CR may have operated on the process of recognition through partial restoration of function in frontal brain areas that are less compromised in early-stage AD and that physiological markers may be more sensitive indicators of brain plasticity than behavioral performance.

Keywords: associative memory; cognitive therapy; cognitive treatment; fMRI; face-name learning; neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / complications*
  • Alzheimer Disease / rehabilitation
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Association Learning
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders* / etiology
  • Memory Disorders* / pathology
  • Memory Disorders* / rehabilitation
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Oxygen
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Time Factors


  • Oxygen