Binding relations among items in the transverse patterning (TP) task is dependent on the integrity of the hippocampus and its extended network. Older adults have impaired TP learning, corresponding to age-related reductions in hippocampal volumes. Unitization is a training strategy that can mitigate TP impairments in amnesia by reducing reliance on hippocampal-dependent relational binding and increasing reliance on fused representations. Here we examined whether healthy older adults and those showing early signs of cognitive decline would also benefit from unitization. Although both groups of older adults had neuropsychological performance within the healthy range, their TP learning differed both under standard and unitized training conditions. Healthy older adults with impaired TP learning under standard training benefited from unitized training. Older adults who failed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) showed greater impairments under standard conditions, and showed no evidence of improvement with unitization. These individuals' failures to benefit from unitization may be a consequence of early deficits not seen in older adults who pass the MoCA.
Keywords: Cognitive aging; hippocampus; relational memory; transverse patterning; unitization.