Background. The level of efficiency of implicit memory in Alzheimer's disease remains unclear as previous studies using stem completion tasks have led to contradictory results.
Method. The present study used target words embedded in significant short texts that subjects were required to read aloud (i.e. to enhance semantic processing). Texts were presented in two perceptual situations: ‘simple’ (blank spaces delimitating words) and ‘complex’ (spaces were filled by ‘8’s). In the completion phase, patients had to write the first word that came to mind in order to complete a three-letter stem. The recognition phase explored explicit memory performance. The performance of 24 Alzheimer patients was compared to a matched sample of healthy controls.
Results. Reading times differed between groups and were shorter for healthy controls. Recognition was dramatically lower in patients, thus confirming the alteration of explicit memory in this pathology. However, a significant priming effect (e.g. the tendency to complete the stem with the aid of a previously explored word) was present in both groups and did not differ between patients and healthy controls.
Conclusions. The absence of a correlation between priming and recognition scores suggests that this result cannot be explained by an explicit memory bias. Moreover, as the priming level was identical whatever the perceptual aspect of the text, we suggest that the priming effect is not only mediated by perceptual processes but also by lexical and conceptual processes, which to some extent are preserved during the light and moderate stages of this disease.