Research Tuesday: PD and Memory Problems

by Cyndee Williams Bowen, MS, CCC-SLP

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. This contribution  to the Research Tuesday project explores the nature of memory deficits experienced by people with PD.


Chiaravalloti ND, Ibarretxe -Bilbao N, DeLuca J, Rusu, O, Pena J, Garcia-7Gorostiaga I, Ojeda N. The source of the memory impairment in Parkinson’s disease: acquisition versus retrieval. Mov Disord 2014;29:765-771. (Downloaded 4/12/2015 from DOI: 10.1002/mds.25842)


Cognitive deficits are a problem for many people and for a variety of reasons. They may occur as a consequence of aging, brain injury, chronic disease or disorder, or for unexplained reasons. People with Parkinson’s often develop cognitive disorders, including memory problems. This study explored the nature of memory deficits in people with Parkinson’s disease (PwP).

The Study

The authors conducted a controlled study to answer questions regarding the nature of memory deficits in people with Parkinson’s. Specifically, they questioned whether PD-related memory deficits are due to difficulty retrieving information, learning new information, or a combination. They also explored the impact of problems with working memory and processing speed as contributing factors to memory deficits in PwP.

Twenty-seven subjects with Parkinson’s were selected from an ongoing, large-scale study. An equal number of healthy control subjects was selected from family and acquaintances of participants. Each person with PD was individually paired with a control subject of comparable age, education, and gender. Included subjects were assessed via a protocol that examined verbal learning and memory, recognition memory, working memory, and processing speed.


The authors found that PwP recalled learned material as well as control subjects; however, they required significantly more effort and repetitions to learn new material in the first place. This contradicts current assumptions that memory deficits in PwP are due to retrieval deficits. Chaiaravalloti et al state:

The results of the present study show that when information is adequately acquired, retrieval (i.e., recall and recognition) will be within normal limits. (p. 770)

Clinical Implications

The authors offer several suggestions regarding the applicability of this research in the treatment of memory deficits in PwP. They suggest utilizing interventions that strengthen memory acquisition vs trying to strengthen recall using strategies such as memory books. They mention specific techniques that have been helpful in other patients with neurogenic memory deficits, i.e., self-generated learning, spaced learning, and retrieval practice (p. 770).

Take Away

I am excited by this article. Based upon my clinical and life experience, it makes a lot of sense to me. I recommend it if, like me, you have an interest in working with and on behalf of PwP.

3 thoughts on “Research Tuesday: PD and Memory Problems

  1. Pingback: Parkinson's Disease: 5 Benefits of Speech Therapy

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