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Researchers identify impaired new learning in persons with Parkinson Disease


Kessler Foundation researchers collaborate with colleagues in Spain to study memory deficits in Parkinson’s patients without dementia

Kessler Foundation scientists collaborated with colleagues in Spain to study memory and learning in patients with Parkinson Disease (PD). They found that the Parkinson group’s ability to learn new information was significantly poorer when compared with the control group. The article was published ahead of print on February 24: Chiaravalloti NDIbarretxe-Bilbao NDeluca JRusu OPena JGarcía-Gorostiaga IOjeda N. The source of the memory impairment in Parkinson's disease: Acquisition versus retrieval. Movement Disorders 2014 Feb 24.

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD

Lead author Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, is the Foundation’s director of Neuropsychology, Neuroscience & Traumatic Brain Injury Research; John DeLuca, PhD, is senior VP of Research & Training. Their co-authors are affiliated with the University of Deusto, Bilbao, and Galdakao Hospital, Galdakao, Spain.

Memory deficits are common in persons with PD, even among those without frank dementia. “Traditionally, these deficits have been attributed to the patients’ inability to retrieve information from their long-term memory,” explained Dr. Chiaravalloti,” which is called the ‘retrieval failure hypothesis.’ Some studies, however, document problems that are inconsistent with the retrieval failure hypothesis.” To clarify the underlying mechanisms, this study focused specifically on learning abilities in a PD sample without dementia. 

Researchers compared the performance of a PD group of 27 patients with a group of 27 matched healthy controls (HCs) on a neuropsychological test battery designed to assess new learning and memory.  “We found a significant difference between the groups in their ability to learn a list of 10 semantically related words,” noted Dr. Chiaravalloti.

“However, no significant differences were seen between the PD and control groups in recall or recognition of newly learned material. We concluded that the memory deficit in patients with PD without dementia was caused by a deficit in learning new information. Improving new learning is an important factor to consider in the development of cognitive rehabilitation interventions in this population.”

This study was supported by Kessler Foundation and the Health Department of Basque Government (2011111117; to N.I.B) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (PSI2012-32441; to N.I.B.).

Scientists at Kessler Foundation conduct cognitive research to improve cognition in individuals with multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke and dementia. Funding is provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research, National MS Society, NJ Commission of Brain Injury Research, Consortium of MS Centers, Patterson Trust, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation, Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and Kessler Foundation.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Brain Disease Health MS Parkinson ability cognitive dementia disabilities

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