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Dementia & Neuropsychologia

Print version ISSN 1980-5764

Dement. neuropsychol. vol.2 no.1 São Paulo Jan./Mar. 2008

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1980-57642009DN20100012 

Original Articles

Involution of categorical thinking processes in Alzheimer's disease: Preliminary results

Involução dos processos de pensamento categórico na doença de Alzheimer: resultados preliminares

Claudia Berlim de Mello 1  

Jacqueline Abrisqueta-Gomez 2  

Gilberto Fernando Xavier 3  

Orlando Francisco Amodeo Bueno 4  

1Department of Psychobiology, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. Doutora em Psicologia - USP; pesquisadora do Centro Paulista de Neuropsicologia - AFIP, Associação Fundo de Incentivo à Psicofarmacologia.

2Doutora em Ciências, Departamento de Psicobiologia, UNIFESP; Pesquisadora do Centro Paulista de Neuropsicologia - AFIP, Associação Fundo de Incentivo à Psicofarmacologia.

3Department of Physiology - USP, Brazil. Professor Adjunto do Instituto de Biociências da Universidade de São Paulo.

4Livre Docente em Psicobiologia, Professor Adjunto do Departamento de Psicobiologia - UNIFESP.

Abstract

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disorder characterized by progressive losses in cognitive functions, including memory. The sequence of these losses may correspond to the inverse order of the normal sequence of ontogenetic cognitive acquisitions, a process named retrogenesis. One of the acquisitions that improve in normal development is the ability to retrieve previously acquired categorical knowledge from semantic memory in order to guide associative thinking and memory processes; consequently, children become able to associate verbal stimuli in more complex taxonomic ways and to use this knowledge to improve their recall. Objective: In this study, we investigated if AD-related deterioration of semantic memory involves a decrease in categorical thinking processes with progression of the disease, according to the retrogenesis hypothesis. Methods: We compared the performance of AD patients at mild and moderate stages, and of groups of 7, 10 and 14-year-old children in tasks of free association along with recall tasks of perceptually and semantically related stimuli. Results: ANOVAS showed a decrease in taxonomic associations and an increase in diffuse associations between mild and moderate stages, corresponding to the inverse order shown by the child groups. At the moderate AD stage, the pattern was similar to that of 7-year-old children. Both groups of patients performed worse than child groups in recall tasks. Conclusions: These results corroborate the hypothesis of an involution of the processes of categorical associative thinking in the course of the disease.

Key words: Alzheimer's disease; neuropsychological tests; memory; thinking

Resumo

A doença de Alzheimer (DA) é uma doença degenerativa do cérebro caracterizada por perdas progressivas nas funções cognitivas, incluindo memória. A seqüência destas perdas pode corresponder à ordem inversa da seqüência normal das aquisições na ontogênese, um processo conhecido como retrogênesis. Uma das aquisições que melhoram no desenvolvimento normal é a habilidade de recuperar conhecimento categórico previamente adquirido da memória semântica de forma a organizar o pensamento associativo e a memória imediata; como conseqüência, as crianças tornam-se capazes de associar estímulos verbais de formas mais complexas, taxonômicas, e de usar este conhecimento para melhorar sua recordação. Objetivo: Neste estudo, investigamos se a deterioração cognitiva associada à DA envolve uma redução dos processos de pensamento categórico ao longo da progressão da doença, considerando a hipótese da retrogênesis. Método: Comparamos o desempenho de pacientes com DA nos estágios inicial e moderado e de grupos de crianças com 7, 10 e 14 anos de idade em tarefas de associação livre e recordação de estímulos semântica e perceptivamente associados. Resultados: ANOVAS mostraram uma redução das associações taxonômicas e um aumento de associações difusas entre os estágios inicial e moderado, correspondendo à ordem inversa mostrada pelos grupos de crianças. No estágio moderado, o padrão foi similar ao das crianças de 7 anos. Os dois grupos de pacientes apresentaram pior desempenho que as crianças nas tarefas de memória. Conclusões: Os resultados corroboram a hipótese de uma involução dos processos de pensamento associativo categórico no curso da doença.

Palavras-chave: doença de Alzheimer; testes neuropsicológicos; memória; pensamento

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Acknowledgements

Authors acknowledge support grants from AFIP – Associação Fundo de Incentivo à Psicofarmacologia

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Received: January 08, 2008; Revised: February 20, 2008; Accepted: February 20, 2008

Claudia Berlim de Mello - Departamento de Psicobiologia / Universidade Federal de São Paulo - Rua Napoleão de Barros, 925 - 04024-002 São Paulo SP - Brazil. E-mail: cberlim@ib.usp.br

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