Prospective memory (PM) is a cognitive function defined as the ability to perform an intention at an appropriate moment in the future. In the aging population, PM is essential for maintaining independent daily living. Introduced as a simple and quick way to assess PM in clinical settings, the envelope task has to date received very limited empirical and practical interest.
The present study investigated the task’s clinical utility in detecting PM impairment in a sample composed of 49 healthy older adults (OA), 41 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and 64 individuals with amnestic and nonamnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI) of heterogeneous etiology: 17 of idiopathic nature, 20 presenting an idiopathic rapid-eye movement sleep behaviour disorder, and 27 patients diagnosed with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.
The envelope task was highly sensitive and specific in discriminating Alzheimer’s disease patients from OA. Although it was specific in distinguishing MCI individuals from OA, its sensitivity was modest, especially in patients presenting a nonamnestic MCI subtype.
Given its high specificity and simple low-cost administration procedure, the envelope task is a promising instrument for clinicians who seek to rapidly assess PM impairment in their daily practice.