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Previous research in mild cognitive impairment (MCI) suggests that visual episodic memory impairment may emerge before analogous verbal episodic memory impairment. The current study examined working memory (WM) test performance in MCI to assess whether patients present with greater visual versus verbal WM impairment. WM performance was also assessed in relation to hippocampal occupancy (HO), a ratio of hippocampal volume to ventricular dilation adjusted for demographic variables and intracranial volume.
Jak et al. (2009) (The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 17, 368–375) and Edmonds, Delano-Wood, Galasko, Salmon, & Bondi (2015) (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 47(1), 231–242) criteria classify patients into four groups: little to no cognitive impairment (non-MCI); subtle cognitive impairment (SCI); amnestic MCI (aMCI); and a combined mixed/dysexecutive MCI (mixed/dys MCI). WM was assessed using co-normed Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV (WAIS-IV) Digit Span Backwards and Wechsler Memory Scale-IV (WMS-IV) Symbol Span Z-scores.
Between-group analyses found worse WMS-IV Symbol Span and WAIS-IV Digit Span Backwards performance for mixed/dys MCI compared to non-MCI patients. Within-group analyses found no differences for non-MCI patients; however, all other groups scored lower on WMS-IV Symbol Span than WAIS-IV Digit Span Backwards. Regression analysis with HO as the dependent variable was statistically significant for WMS-IV Symbol Span performance. WAIS-IV Digit Span Backwards performance failed to reach statistical significance.
Worse WMS-IV Symbol Span performance was observed in patient groups with measurable neuropsychological impairment and better WMS-IV Symbol Span performance was associated with higher HO ratios. These results suggest that visual WM may be particularly sensitive to emergent illness compared to analogous verbal WM tests.
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