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Christopher Moulin and Céline Souchay

Does a monitoring deficit underly the real world/laboratory prospective memory paradox in healthy and pathological aging ?

"Défi de tous les savoirs (DS10) 2015"

A collaboration with Université de Genève (Pr. Matthias Kliegel and Dr. Katharina Schnitzspahn)

Prospective memory (PM) describes the processes and skills required to initiate and perform delayed intentions at a specific point in the future. PM is one of the most frequent everyday memory challenges, and an intact PM is a prerequisite for the maintenance of independence in older adults ; PM function greatly impacts upon instrumental activities of daily living. To remember to attend a meeting, to take some medicine, pay in a cheque, pick up the children from school, all requires effective PM. We find PM deficits in older adults, but the story is complex. Tasks carried out in a laboratory setting show an age deficit, whereas naturalistic tasks carried out in everyday environments actually show age-related benefits. This pattern has been called the age-PM-paradox.

Explaining this paradox is a critical issue for understanding the effects of cognitive aging. For the first time we test the proposal that this effect is due to metacognition, based on the capacity to monitor our abilities and put in place strategies to overcome potential weaknesses. Metacognition concerns the reflective and higher order strategic and monitoring processes that govern cognition. In PM, effective monitoring is paramount : we need to be able to be aware of our ongoing mental operations, whilst keeping active the planned intention – this aspect of PM has seldom been researched. We will examine metacognition in PM in healthy aging and the impact of feedback and practice. What we learn from these will further our understanding of the patterns of preservation and decline more generally in aging. We will then be able to transfer such benefits to other domains and environments. We will also extend this work to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). People with AD have a higher rate of PM failures in daily life. People with AD show impairment on laboratory tasks of PM, but less is known about naturalistic tasks, and the possibility of an advantage for naturalistic materials compared to laboratory tasks has never been assessed.

We will add to the evidence base about the paradox in PM in older adults, and establish its status in AD. Our metacognitive focus will enable us to make recommendations about strategy use and rehabilitation, and generate a new evidence base on PM in older adults and dementia. Following the completion of our programme, it will be possible to point to particular mechanisms which may be rehabilitated, or compensated for with external aids in future research.

This is a project that is only possible in the context of the shared expertise between the two partners. The team in Geneva delivers world-leading expertise on cognitive aging and PM. The Grenoble team is uniquely placed to adapt existing tasks into metacognitive paradigms, and to extend the work into AD.