Does retrieval frequency account for the pattern of autobiographical memory loss in early Alzheimer's disease patients?

Maria Stefania De Simone, Lucia Fadda, Roberta Perri, Marta Aloisi, Carlo Caltagirone, Giovanni Augusto Carlesimo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Episodic autobiographical memory (ABM) has been found to be impaired from the early stage of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Previous works have focused on how ABM decreases over the lifespan, but no study has deeply investigated whether the extent of episodic autobiographical amnesia is mediated by the retrieval frequency of the episodic trace itself. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the frequency of trace retrieval has an effect on the quality of autobiographical incidents recall and whether the extent of this contribution changes over time. For this purpose, the episodic component of ABM was assessed in patients in the early stage of AD through a questionnaire which allowed evaluating memory of past personal incidents as a function of both their age of acquisition and retrieval frequency. We found that both AD patients and healthy controls took advantage of greater retrieval frequency across all time segments, because of their better memory performance on frequently retrieved episodes than less frequently retrieved ones. Although in the AD group the retrieval frequency effect (i.e., higher scores on the episodes rated as more frequently retrieved) was found in all time segments, the extent of its beneficial effect on memory performance was temporally-graded and inversely related to the time course. Our findings provide new evidence that the combined action of both age of memory and retrieval frequency could provide a valuable framework for predicting patterns of ABM loss, at least in early AD patients. In line with the Multiple Trace Theory, we speculated that retrieval frequency protects episodic trace recall against hippocampal damage by reinforcing the neural representation of personal context-rich memories, which consequently are easier to access and recall. Furthermore, the age of memory should change the amplitude of this beneficial effect as a function of the remoteness of the trace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-200
Number of pages7
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2015


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Autobiographical memory interview
  • Cortical reallocation theory
  • Multiple trace theory
  • Retrieval frequency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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