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Learning potential: a new method for assessing cognitive impairment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2005

Rocío Fernández-Ballesteros
Department of Bio-Psychology and Health Psychology, Autonoma University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
María Dolores Zamarrón
Department of Bio-Psychology and Health Psychology, Autonoma University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Lluís Tàrraga
Licfundació ACE. Institut Català de Neurociècies Aplicades y Alzheimer Centre Educacional. Marquez de Samenat, Barcelona, Spain


Background: In recent years, it has been claimed that learning potential (also called cognitive plasticity or rehabilitation potential) may be a good predictor of the course of cognitive impairment and the process of dementia. The basic objective of this research program is to test the extent to which the “Battery of Learning Potential for Assessing Dementia” (BEPAD) discriminates healthy people from those diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and with Alzheimer's Disease (AD).

Methods: Two hundred people: 100 healthy elders (51 women, 49 men, mean age: 73.13), 50 diagnosed with MCI (30 women, 20 men, mean age: 74.89), and 50 diagnosed with mild AD (36 women, 14 men, mean age: 75.07). Learning potential was assessed through dynamic assessment (or testing-the-limits), using experimental test-training-post-test, a form of evaluation closely related to functional or stress testing in medicine. In several previous studies the BEPAD was developed, with four tasks: visuo-spatial, verbal recall (including delayed verbal recall), executive control and verbal fluency. For all of these tasks, training procedures were developed, converting them into learning potential tests.

Results and Conclusions: All “dynamic” or learning scores (post-test) discriminate better healthy, MCI and AD subjects than all static or pre-test scores. A total of 89% of cases are correctly classified by the BEPAD: 95.7% of the healthy subjects, 90.6% of AD patients, and 71.1% of the MCI individuals were correctly classified.

Research Article
International Psychogeriatric Association 2005

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