Teasing Apart the Contribution of Memory and Language Impairments in Alzheimer's Disease An Online Study of Sentence Comprehension Clinical Forum
Clinical Forum  |   February 01, 1998
Teasing Apart the Contribution of Memory and Language Impairments in Alzheimer's Disease
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Daniel Kempler
    University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Amit Almor
    University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Maryellen C. MacDonald
    University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • Contact author: Daniel Kempler, Speech Pathology OPD 2P52, LAC+USC Medical Center, 1200 N. State Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033.
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / Language Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Clinical Forum: Online Measures of Comprehension
Clinical Forum   |   February 01, 1998
Teasing Apart the Contribution of Memory and Language Impairments in Alzheimer's Disease
American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, February 1998, Vol. 7, 61-67. doi:10.1044/1058-0360.0701.61
History: Received August 8, 1997 , Accepted November 26, 1997
 
American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, February 1998, Vol. 7, 61-67. doi:10.1044/1058-0360.0701.61
History: Received August 8, 1997; Accepted November 26, 1997

Sentence comprehension is a complex activity that depends on many different component skills, including the ability to understand individual words, integrate the meanings of adjacent words, and interpret grammatical structures. Tests of sentence comprehension, such as sentence-picture matching, require patients to use all of these linguistic abilities and to remember the meaning of a sentence while performing the task. Therefore, it is often difficult to determine, in cases of comprehension impairment, precisely why a sentence is misunderstood. This is particularly true for patients with Alzheimer's disease, who have both severe semantic and working memory disorders. This paper presents data from an online (cross-modal naming) sentence comprehension test designed to minimize the memory requirements of test performance-while still assessing the ability of patients to integrate the meanings of two nouns and a verb in a sentence. This task has the advantages of measuring comprehension as the sentence is processed and not requiring the subjects to reflect on, or make judgments about, the sentence meaning afterward. The results suggest that patients with Alzheimer's disease can successfully process sentences with relatively complex meanings as they hear them. Therefore, these patients' sentence comprehension deficits are likely due to an inability to maintain active information in memory and not due to a purely semantic impairment.

Author Notes
This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging to Maryellen MacDonald (RO1-AG11773). We wish to acknowledge the following for referring Alzheimer patients for this research: Dr. Victor Henderson, professor of neurology and director of the Clinical Core of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Southern California (NIH AG05142); Dr. Helena Chui, codirector, Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic and Treatment Center, Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center (DHS 94-20356), and Dr. Lee Willis, USC Department of Neurology and Geriatric Neurobehavior Center, Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. We gratefully acknowledge Lori Altmann, Mariela Gil, Laila Lalami, Karen Marblestone, Sarah Schuster, and Karen Stevens Dagerman who collected these data, and the subjects and their families for their participation. The stimuli were adapted from materials developed by Lorraine Tyler. We thank her for generously providing these materials.
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