Groups of patients with dementia of Alzheimer type (DAT) and idiopathic Parkinson's disease, together with age and IQ-matched normal controls, were compared on several computerized tests of visuospatial memory and learning. Two different groups of parkinsonian patients were studied: (1) a newly diagnosed group, early in the course of the disease, not receiving medication (NMED PD) and (2) a group later in the course of the disease, receiving medication (MED PD). The DAT and MED PD group were significantly impaired in both spatial and visual pattern recognition memory. The DAT group exhibited a delay-dependent deficit (over 0–16 s) in a delayed matching-to-sample procedure, but were not impaired at simultaneous-matching-to-sample. By contrast, the MED PD group showed delay-independent deficits in the delayed matching-to-sample test and both the MED PD and the NMED PD group were also significantly impaired in simultancous matching. In a form of delayed response test, the subjects were required first to memorize and then to learn the locations of several abstract visual stimuli which varied progressively in number from 1 to 8. The DAT group were severely impaired in this conditional associative learning task. A significant proportion of patients, but none of the controls, in the NMED and MED PD group also failed the test at the levels of 6 or 8 items. There was a significant correlation between the performance on the first trial, memory score in the delayed response task and indices of clinical disability and disease duration in the patients with Parkinson's disease. The results are discussed in terms of the utility of the comparison between DAT and PD in characterizing the nature of the cognitive deficits in these conditions and their relation to those findings from animal neuropsychology which use comparable paradigms.

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