Disorders of Memory

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A disorder of declarative memory is defined as amnesia. A pure amnesia refers to a relatively circumscribed disorder of declarative memory that cannot be accounted for by nonmnemonic deficits such as attention, perception, language, or motivation. Anterograde amnesia refers to the inability to acquire new declarative memories. Retrograde amnesia refers to the loss of memories acquired prior to the onset of the amnesia. Retrograde amnesias are described as flat when they extend back uniformly through an individual's life. More often, however, retrograde amnesias are temporally graded, being most severe or limited to a time period preceding the onset of the amnesia, and less severe or absent for more remote experiences. '4] The gradient may reflect the time when the memory was acquired or the strength of the original memory. Depending on the size and location of lesions, amnesias can vary considerably in anterograde and retrograde scope and severity.

Dementia may be defined as a chronic and substantial decline in two or more areas of cognition. In addition to memory impairment, at least one of the following must occur: aphasia, agnosia, or a disturbance of executive function (see Chapter33 ). The cognitive deficits must reflect a decline from the person's former function and must be sufficiently severe to cause impairment in occupational or social activities of daily living. Dementia differs from delirium because it is neither acute in onset nor a diffuse confusional state that affects all realms of function. It differs from amnesia in that dementia is not circumscribed to a declarative memory disorder. Dementia, however, can greatly affect memory ability in primary and secondary ways. Dementia can include a primary memory disability when declarative memory is one of the areas of decline. Indeed, many definitions of Alzheimer's disease, the most common dementing disorder, require that declarative memory be one of the areas of decline. Dementias can also affect memory ability in a secondary way when the multiple cognitive deficits impede memory performance. A dementia featuring a severe attentional disorder, for example, impedes many aspects of memory performance. For similar reasons, mental retardation, confusional states, inattention, or motivational difficulties such as depression all have broad and substantial secondary effects on memory performance.

Memory is also affected by nondisease influences such as aging. Older people in their sixties and seventies typically perform less well on standard measures of memory than younger people in their twenties and thirties. '5 This decline is sometimes referred to as age-associated memory impairment. Age-associated changes in the absence of overt disease, however, vary considerably for different kinds of cognition and memory. They are more severe for fluid than for crystallized aspects of cognition; indeed, crystallized cognition is often minimally affected. Working memory capacity appears to decline constantly across the life span; therefore, aging affects strategic memory far more than nonstrategic declarative memory performance. Semantic memory appears to be affected only in very old age. There are few, if any, age-associated changes in some forms of nondeclarative memory, such as repetition priming, '6 and there are severe declines in other forms of nondeclarative memory, such as conditioning.^ Longitudinal studies provide evidence that age-associated memory impairment is accounted for partly by individuals who are in a preclinical form of Alzheimer's disease. It is unclear at present whether age-associated memory impairments reflect only preclinical forms of age-related diseases or whether age-related reductions in memory occur that are independent of disease processes.


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