What Is Procedural Memory? How Is It Affected by Dementia?

Procedural Memory. :levarwest Moment Open/ Getty Images

What Is Procedural Memory?

Procedural memory is the knowledge of how to do something, i.e., knowing what the procedure is to accomplish a specific task. Procedural memory is a type of long term memory and is classified as a non-declarative memory since it's difficult to explain (or declare) every step in words.

Examples of procedural memory include skills such as tying your shoe, riding a bike or playing an instrument.

How Is Procedural Memory Affected by Dementia?

Procedural memory generally declines as Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia progress. Dementia- especially in its middle and later stages- usually causes people to eventually forget how to perform activities of daily living (ALDs) such as getting dressed in the morning, how to take a shower or how to brush their teeth.

However, multiple research studies have shown that some people with dementia can still maintain established procedural memories or even learn new procedural tasks. One of the keys appears to be rehearsal of the task through cognitive training.

For example, one study found that physical exercises that intentionally targeted some of the basic procedural memories such as getting up out of a chair (an ability that most people with dementia lose in the late stages) were effective in maintaining this ability.

Another research study found that an individual with semantic dementia was able to develop new procedural memory for several tasks on his smart phone which assisted him to be more independent.

Related Reading


Aging  Mental Health. 2015;19(4):353-62. Preventing Loss of Independence through Exercise (PLIÉ): qualitative analysis of a clinical trial in older adults with dementia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25022459

Journal of Neuropsychology. 2012 Mar;6(1):31-42. Cognitive procedural learning in early Alzheimer's disease: impaired processes and compensatory mechanisms. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22257534

Journal of Neuroscience Nursing.  2008;40(2):96-102. Procedural Memory and Emotional Attachment in Alzheimer Disease: Implications for Meaningful and Engaging Activities http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/574690_3 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/574690_3

Neurocase. 2013;19(6):542-52. "Keep up the good work"! A case study of the effects of a specific cognitive training in Alzheimer's disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22823908

Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. 2015 Jan 3:1-23. Relying on procedural memory to enhance independence in daily living activities: Smartphone use in a case of semantic dementia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25558769

Rutgers University. Memory Loss Online. Long-Term Memory. 2006. http://www.memorylossonline.com/glossary/longtermmemory.htm

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