A short cut to the past: Cueing via concrete objects improves autobiographical memory retrieval in Alzheimer's disease patients

Neuropsychologia. 2018 Feb;110:113-122. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.06.034. Epub 2017 Jul 1.


Older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease (AD) have difficulties accessing autobiographical memories. However, this deficit tends to spare memories dated to earlier parts of their lives, and may partially reflect retrieval deficits rather than complete memory loss. Introducing a novel paradigm, the present study examines whether autobiographical memory recall can be improved in AD by manipulating the sensory richness, concreteness and cultural dating of the memory cues. Specifically, we examine whether concrete everyday objects historically dated to the participants' youth (e.g., a skipping rope), relative to verbal cues (i.e., the verbal signifiers for the objects) facilitate access to autobiographical memories. The study includes 49 AD patients, and 50 healthy, older matched control participants, all tested on word versus object-cued recall. Both groups recalled significantly more memories, when cued by objects relative to words, but the advantage was significantly larger in the AD group. In both groups, memory descriptions were longer and significantly more episodic in nature in response to object-cued recall. Together these findings suggest that the multimodal nature of the object cues (i.e. vision, olfaction, audition, somatic sensation) along with specific cue characteristics, such as time reference, texture, shape, may constrain the retrieval search, potentially minimizing executive function demands, and hence strategic processing requirements, thus easing access to autobiographical memories in AD.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; Autobiographical memory; Episodic memory; Multimodal cueing; Object-cueing.

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Visual Perception*