Source Memory in Korsakoff Syndrome: Disentangling the Mechanisms of Temporal Confusion

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Mar;41(3):596-607. doi: 10.1111/acer.13318. Epub 2017 Feb 3.


Background: Korsakoff syndrome (KS), most frequently resulting from alcohol dependence (ALC), is characterized by severe anterograde amnesia. It has been suggested that these deficits may extend to other memory components, and notably source memory deficits involved in the disorientation and temporal confusion frequently observed in KS. However, the extent of this source memory impairment in KS and its usefulness for the differential diagnosis between ALC and KS remain unexplored.

Methods: Nineteen patients with KS were compared with 19 alcohol-dependent individuals and 19 controls in a source memory test exploring temporal context confusions ("continuous recognition task"). Episodic memory and psychopathological comorbidities were controlled for.

Results: While no source memory deficit was observed in ALC, KS was associated with a significant presence of temporal context confusion, even when the influence of comorbidities was taken into account. This source memory impairment did not appear to be related to performances on episodic memory or executive functions.

Conclusions: Patients with KS displayed source memory deficits, as indexed by temporal context confusions. The absence of a relationship with episodic memory performances seems to indicate that source memory impairment is not a mere by-product of amnesia. As ALC was associated with preserved source memory, the presence of temporal context confusion may serve as a complementary tool for the differential diagnosis between ALC and KS.

Keywords: Alcohol Dependence; Disorientation; Executive Functions; Korsakoff Syndrome; Source Memory; Temporal Confusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Confusion / diagnosis*
  • Confusion / epidemiology
  • Confusion / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / psychology
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Memory Disorders / epidemiology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Stroop Test