Testing Episodic Memory in Elderly Subjects: Not as Simple as It Looks

Dement Geriatr Cogn Dis Extra. 2019 Jun 18;9(2):207-216. doi: 10.1159/000499836. eCollection 2019 May-Aug.


Background/aims: The available episodic memory tests are not specifically constructed to examine older subjects. Their use in outpatient memory clinics may result in aborted test administration. We used a strict adherence to the test protocol in cognitively healthy, amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), and Alzheimer's disease dementia subjects to assess the possibility of preventing this.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study in memory outpatient subjects with a mean age of 74.5 years. Primary study outcomes were: number of missing values and test results in the Visual Association Test (VAT) and the 15 Word Test (15WT).

Results: A strict adherence to the test protocol resulted in a 10-fold decrease in the number of missing values in the VAT. For the 15WT this could not be realized mostly because the test was deemed too demanding for 1 in 6 patients.

Conclusions: This study is one of the few examining the applicability of well-known episodic memory tests in older subjects. A strict adherence to the test protocol reduced the number of missing values. Floor effects were stronger for the 15WT than for the VAT. Results favor the use of the VAT in senior subjects and show the unsuitability of the 15WT in this group.

Keywords: Aging; Alzheimer's disease; Episodic memory; Neuropsychological tests.