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False recall in older adults and Alzheimer's linked to attention, not memory, breakdown

t word, and later asked to recall words on the list. Imagine being read a list of words, such as Bed, Rest, Awake, Tired, Dream, Wake, Snooze, Blanket, Doze, Slumber, Snore, Nap. Although the word Sleep was never presented, research demonstrates that many people will later recall the word and appear to believe incorrectly that it was indeed presented as part of the list.

Such lists of semantically associated words, first developed in 1959 by James Deese, have recently become a popular and powerful paradigm for the study of memory function. By applying the simple word recall tests to various groups of individuals under various constraints and conditions, researchers are slowly unravelling important details about human memory function.

Balota's studies indicated that young adults recalled the presented words about 70 percent of the time, but mistakenly recalled the non-presented word in about 30 percent of the trials. Whereas, healthy older adults recalled the presented words about 55 percent of the time, and the non-presented words about 37 percent of the time. And people with mild Alzheimer's related dementia actually recalled the item that was not presented slightly more often (35 percent) than they recalled words that were actually presented (only 32 percent).

Results from the study are shedding light on one of the most salient problems in Alzheimer's research -- how the disease influences a person's ability to acquire and retrieve new memories. A key to understanding the memory process is knowing that memories are never generated as 100 percent accurate, vivid snapshots of past events and experiences, rather they are constructed from various tidbits of related information that the mind is able to retrieve and assimilate.

Memories of events, experiences and other knowledge-based information are stored in intricate webs linked by logical, semantic associations; a thought or other stimulus can spark a reaction along these networks and cause a flood
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Contact: Gerry Everding
gerry_everding@aismail.wustl.edu
314-935-6375
Washington University in St. Louis
4-Jun-1999


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