Medial temporal lobe structure, mnemonic and perceptual discrimination in healthy older adults and those at risk for mild cognitive impairment.


Cognitive tests sensitive to the integrity of the medial temporal lobe (MTL), such as mnemonic discrimination of perceptually similar stimuli, may be useful early markers of risk for cognitive decline in older populations. Perceptual discrimination of stimuli with overlapping features also relies on MTL but remains relatively unexplored in this context. We assessed mnemonic discrimination in two test formats (Forced Choice, Yes/No) and perceptual discrimination of objects and scenes in 111 community-dwelling older adults at different risk status for cognitive impairment based on neuropsychological screening. We also investigated associations between performance and MTL sub-region volume and thickness. The at-risk group exhibited reduced entorhinal thickness and impaired perceptual and mnemonic discrimination. Perceptual discrimination impairment partially explained group differences in mnemonic discrimination and correlated with entorhinal thickness. Executive dysfunction accounted for Yes/No deficits in at-risk adults, demonstrating the importance of test format for the interpretation of memory decline. These results suggest that perceptual discrimination tasks may be useful tools for detecting incipient cognitive impairment related to reduced MTL integrity in nonclinical populations.