Embodiment has highlighted the importance of sensory-motor components in cognition. Perception and memory are thus very tightly bound together, and episodic and semantic memories should rely on the same grounded memory traces. Reduced perception should then directly reduce the ability to encode and retrieve an episodic memory, as in normal aging. Multimodal integration deficits, as in Alzheimer's disease, should lead to more severe episodic memory impairment. The present study introduces a new memory test developed to take into account these assumptions. The SEMEP (SEMantic-Episodic) memory test proposes to assess conjointly semantic and episodic knowledge across multiple tasks: semantic matching, naming, free recall, and recognition. The performance of young adults is compared to healthy elderly adults (HE), patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), and patients with semantic dementia (SD). The results show specific patterns of performance between the groups. HE commit memory errors only for presented but not to be remembered items. AD patients present the worst episodic memory performance associated with intrusion errors (recall or recognition of items never presented). They were the only group to not benefit from a visual isolation (addition of a yellow background), a method known to increase the distinctiveness of the memory traces. Finally, SD patients suffer from the most severe semantic impairment. To conclude, confusion errors are common across all the elderly groups, whereas AD was the only group to exhibit regular intrusion errors and SD patients to show severe semantic impairment.
Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; aging; embodied cognition; long-term memory; semantic dementia.