BACKGROUND - Working memory (WM) is often assessed with serial order tests such as repeating digits backward. In prior dementia research using the Backward Digit Span Test (BDT), only aggregate test performance was examined.
OBJECTIVE - The current research tallied primacy/recency effects, out-of-sequence transposition errors, perseverations, and omissions to assess WM deficits in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
METHODS - Memory clinic patients (n = 66) were classified into three groups: single domain amnestic MCI (aMCI), combined mixed domain/dysexecutive MCI (mixed/dys MCI), and non-MCI where patients did not meet criteria for MCI. Serial order/WM ability was assessed by asking participants to repeat 7 trials of five digits backwards. Serial order position accuracy, transposition errors, perseverations, and omission errors were tallied.
RESULTS - A 3 (group)×5 (serial position) repeated measures ANOVA yielded a significant group×trial interaction. Follow-up analyses found attenuation of the recency effect for mixed/dys MCI patients. Mixed/dys MCI patients scored lower than non-MCI patients for serial position 3 (p < 0.003) serial position 4 (p < 0.002); and lower than both group for serial position 5 (recency; p < 0.002). Mixed/dys MCI patients also produced more transposition errors than both groups (p < 0.010); and more omissions (p < 0.020), and perseverations errors (p < 0.018) than non-MCI patients.
CONCLUSIONS - The attenuation of a recency effect using serial order parameters obtained from the BDT may provide a useful operational definition as well as additional diagnostic information regarding working memory deficits in MCI.