Memory for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks one year later in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, patients with mild cognitive impairment, and healthy older adults.


Although there are many opportunities to study memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) in the laboratory, there are few opportunities to study memory for real world events in these patients. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks provided one such opportunity. Patients with AD, patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and healthy older adults were given a telephone questionnaire in the initial weeks after the event, again three to four months later, and finally one year afterwards to evaluate their memory for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. We were particularly interested in using the attacks as an opportunity to examine the decline of episodic memory in patients with AD, patients with MCI, and older adult controls over a period of months. We found that compared to healthy older adults, patients with AD and MCI showed impaired memory at the initial time point, more rapid forgetting from the initial to the three-month time point, and very similar changes in memory from the three-month to the one-year time point. We speculated that these findings were consistent with patients with AD and MCI showing initial impaired encoding and a more rapid rate of forgetting compared with healthy older adults, but that once the memories had been consolidated, their decay rate became similar to that of healthy older adults. Lastly, although memory distortions were common among all groups, they were greatest in the patients with AD.