Working Memory in Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease
Working memory impairments are frequently observed in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Recent research suggests that the mechanisms underlying these deficits might be dissociable using sensitive tasks, specifically those that rely on the reproduction of the exact quality of features held in memory.
In patients with AD, working memory impairments are mainly due to an increase in misbinding errors. They arise when patients misremember which features (e.g., color, orientation, shape, and location) belong to different objects held in memory. Hence, they erroneously report features that belong to items in memory other than the one they are probed on. This misbinding of features that belong to different objects in memory can be considered a form of interference between stored items. Such binding errors are evident even in presymptomatic individuals with familial AD (due to gene mutations) who do not have AD yet. Overall, these findings are in line with the role of the medial temporal lobes, and specifically the hippocampus, in retention of feature bindings, regardless of retention duration, i.e., in both short- or long-term memory.
Patients with PD, on the other hand, do not show increased misbinding. Their working memory deficits are associated with making more random errors or guesses. These random responses are not modulated by manipulations of their dopaminergic medication and hence may reflect involvement of non-dopaminergic neurotransmitters in this deficit. In addition, patients with PD demonstrate impairments in gating of information into relevant vs. irrelevant items in memory, a cognitive operation that is modulated by dopaminergic manipulation in line with a frontal executive effect of this neurotransmitter. Thus, although AD and PD are both associated with working memory impairments, these surface manifestations appear to be underpinned by very different mechanisms.
KeywordsAlzheimer’s disease Parkinson’s disease Working memory
This work is supported by the Wellcome Trust, British Academy, NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, and Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroscience.
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