Attention Problems Can Be Differentiated In Dementia And Normal Aging

Attention models view attention as having at least two components: endogenous attention defined as executive and directed by voluntary acts, and exogenous attention defined as automatic and directed by external stimulation.

Three studies were designed to evaluate the decline of these two components of attention in normal aging and two neurodegenerative diseases. Standardized tests derived from Posner's model of visuospatial attention were administered to normal healthy elderly participants (n = 13), patients suffering from Huntington's disease (HD; n = 17) and Alzheimer's disease (n = 15), and matched control subjects (n = 57). Outcome measures were reaction time (RT) and RT difference score (defined as invalid RT minus valid RT). At the end of the investigation, in healthy elderly participants, the decline was more pronounced for endogenous attention in situations of perceptual conflict.

In Alzheimer's disease, there was a significant decline in both attention components, while in HD, voluntary attention was markedly impaired and automatic attention preserved. The Authors concluded that normal aging and HD are characterized by decreased endogenous attention in situations of perceptual conflict.

These data support previous findings that older people display impairment of attention in complex perceptual situations. A model which allows for the separation of attention pathologies, thus improving therapeutic strategies for patients and elderly, is proposed.

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