Short-term memory in Down syndrome: Applying the working memory model

January 1, 2001 - This paper is divided into three sections. The first reviews the evidence for a verbal short-term memory deficit in Down syndrome. Existing research suggests that short-term memory for verbal information tends to be impaired in Down syndrome, in contrast to short-term memory for visual and spatial material. In addition, problems of hearing or speech do not appear to be a major cause of difficulties on tests of verbal short-term memory. This suggests that Down syndrome is associated with a specific memory problem, which we link to a potential deficit in the functioning of the 'phonological loop' of Baddeley's (1986) model of working memory. The second section considers the implications of a phonological loop problem. Because a reasonable amount is known about the normal functioning of the phonological loop, and of its role in language acquisition in typical development, we can make firm predictions as to the likely nature of the short-term memory problem in Down syndrome, and its consequences for language learning. However, we note that the existing evidence from studies with individuals with Down syndrome does not fit well with these predictions. This leads to the third section of the paper, in which we consider key questions to be addressed in future research. We suggest that there are two questions to be answered, which follow directly from the contradictory results outlined in the previous section. These are 'What is the precise nature of the verbal short-term memory deficit in Down syndrome?', and 'What are the consequences of this deficit for learning?'. We discuss ways in which these questions might be addressed in future work.


Memory training for children with Down syndrome

January 1, 2001 - One well-established fact concerning cognitive and language development in individuals with Down syndrome is that working memory is particularly poor, with auditory working memory worse than visual working memory. Working memory serves the functions of control, regulation, and active maintenance of information and is critical in daily complex cognitive activities. Thus, there is a strong need to find effective and practical interventions targeted at improving working memory in individuals with Down syndrome. The present paper reviews research on rehearsal training and concludes that it can be used successfully to increase working memory in individuals with Down syndrome. However, there are still questions about whether auditory working memory can be improved reliably, whether improvement can be maintained over the long term, and whether improvement exists beyond any effect of increased attention. We describe our in-progress study which addresses these concerns


The linguistic and cognitive profile of Down syndrome: Evidence from a comparison with fragile X syndrome

January 1, 2001 - In this paper, we report on the results of our research, which is designed to address two broad questions about the cognitive and linguistic profile of Down syndrome: (1) Which domains of functioning are especially impaired in individuals with Down syndrome? and (2) Which aspects of the language and cognitive profile of Down syndrome are syndrome specific? To address these questions, we focused on three dimensions of the Down syndrome profile - receptive language, expressive language, and theory of mind ? and made comparisons to individuals with fragile X syndrome, which is an X-linked form of intellectual disability. We identified Down syndrome impairments on all three dimensions that were substantially greater than those seen in nonverbal cognition and that were not shared by individuals with fragile X syndrome. Clinical implications of these findings are considered.


Language, cognition, and short-term memory in individuals with Down syndrome

January 1, 2001 - The developmentally emerging phenotype of language and cognition in individuals with Down syndrome is summarized on the basis of the project's prior work. Identified are a) the emerging divergence of expressive and receptive language, b) the emerging divergence of lexical and syntactic knowledge in each process, and c) the emerging divergence within cognitive skills of auditory short-term memory and visuospatial short-term memory from other visuospatial skills. Expressive syntax and auditory short-term memory are identified as areas of particular difficulty. Evidence for the continued acquisition of language skills in adolescence is presented. The role of the two components of working memory, auditory and visual, in language development is investigated in studies of narrative and longitudinal change in language skills. Predictors of individual differences during six years of language development are evaluated through hierarchical linear modelling. Chronological age, visuospatial short-term memory, and auditory-short term memory are identified as key predictors of performance at study entry, but not individual change over time, for expressive syntax. The same predictors account for variation in comprehension skill at study outset; and change over the six years can be predicted by chronological age and the change in visuospatial short-term memory skills. (Research funded by US National Institutes of Health Grant R01-HD23352 with contributions from the National Down Syndrome Society.)


Implicit versus explicit memory function in children with Down and Williams syndrome

January 1, 2001 - The present study was aimed at evaluating implicit memory processes in participants with Williams syndrome and comparing them to children with Down syndrome and to mental-age matched typically developing children. For this purpose, tests of verbal and visuo-perceptual explicit memory, verbal and visual repetition priming as well as procedural learning tasks were administered to 12 participants with Williams syndrome, 14 with Down syndrome and 32 typically developing children. Participants with Williams syndrome showed a level of repetition priming similar to that of mental-age typically developing controls. In contrast, children with Williams syndrome showed a reduced learning rate in the two procedural tasks. As regards children with Down syndrome, we document comparable implicit memory abilities. In contrast, regarding explicit memory, typically developing children performed better than individuals with Down syndrome. This finding is relevant for our knowledge about the qualitative aspects of the anomalous cognitive development in individuals with intellectual disabilities and the neurobiological substrate underlying this development.


Picture of a child with Down syndrome learning to read

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