Chinese Science Bulletin

, Volume 55, Issue 35, pp 3989–3997 | Cite as

What can false memory tell us about memory impairments in Alzheimer’s disease?

  • Fan Zhang
  • HaiYan GengEmail author
Review Psychology


The range of memory impairments associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD) has been a focus for psychological and clinical researchers for many years. In addition to investigations of AD patients’ veridical memory using traditional recognition memory tasks, a number of recent studies have focused on false memories to reveal the underlying causes of memory impairment in AD. Studies comparing illusory memories between AD patients and healthy older people have revealed various differences in memory deficits between the development of AD and the typical aging processes. Here, we review 3 types of memory illusions tested in AD patients: associative memory illusions, fluency-based false memories and source memory errors. By comparing AD patients with healthy older adults, we sought to analyze the mechanisms underlying AD-related memory impairments at different stages of memory processing, including encoding, retrieval and monitoring. This comparison revealed that AD patients exhibit an impaired ability to establish and utilize gist representations at the encoding stage and impairments in processing on the basis of familiarity and recollection at the retrieval stage. Consequently, patients with AD have access to less information when making memory judgments. As a result, they become more susceptible to the effects of item fluency, which can be manipulated during the retrieval stage. Furthermore, with impaired source memory monitoring abilities, the capacity of AD patients to suppress memory illusions is compromised. Based on these findings, we propose that the study of false memories constitute a critical tool for elucidating the memory impairments involved in AD. Further explorations of these memory impairments will have practical significance for the diagnosis and treatment of AD in the future.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) false memories associative memory illusions fluency effect source monitoring 


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPeking UniversityBeijingChina

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