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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 4 (1991), Issue 4, Pages 235-248

Autobiographical Memory in Normal Ageing and Dementia

Harvey J. Sagar,1,2 Edith V. Sullivan,1,2,3 and Suzanne Corkin1

1Department of Brain and Cognitive Science and Clinical Research Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
2Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
3Present address: Psychiatry Service (116A3), Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA, and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

Copyright © 1991 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Autobiographical memories in young and elderly normal subjects are drawn mostly from the recent past but elderly subjects relate a second peak of memories from early adulthood. Memory for remote past public events is relatively preserved in dementia, possibly reflecting integrity of semantic relative to episodic memory. We examined recall of specific, consistent autobiographical episodes in Alzheimer's disease (AD) in response to cue words. Patients and control subjects drew most memories from the recent 20 years: episode age related to anterograde memory function but not subject age or dementia. Subjects also related a secondary peak of memories from early adulthood; episode age related to subject age and severity of dementia. The results suggest that preferential recall of memories from early adulthood is based on the salience of retrieval cues, altered by age and dementia, superimposed on a temporal gradient of semantic memory. Further, AD shows behavioural similarity to normal ageing.