Verbal and Nonverbal Memory in Adults Prenatally Exposed to Alcohol

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. <>
Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research (Impact Factor: 3.21). 03/2010; 34(5):897-906. DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01162.x
Source: PubMed


Neurocognitive effects of prenatal alcohol exposure in adulthood are not well documented. Questions persist regarding the extent to which there are specific, measurable effects beyond those associated with global ability deficits, whether individuals without the full fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) demonstrate alcohol-related cognitive impairments, and whether observed memory effects are specific to a particular modality, i.e., verbal vs. visual/spatial domains.
In this study, verbal and nonverbal selective reminding paradigms were used to assess memory function in 234 young adults (M age: 22.78, SD: 1.79). Alcohol exposure was quantified prenatally. Alcohol groups included: Individuals with physical effects of alcohol exposure (Dysmorphic group, n = 47); Exposed individuals without such effects (n = 74). Contrast groups included: Controls (n = 59) matched for ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and hospital of birth; Special Education contrast group (n = 54) included to control for disability status. Memory outcomes entailed total recall, delayed recall, and measures of encoding and retrieval, and learning over trials as indexed by slope.
Results indicated that Dysmorphic individuals were significantly less efficient in memory performance than Controls on all of the outcomes measured, but they did not differ from those in the Special Education contrast group. The nondysmorphic, alcohol-exposed group was intermediate in their performance, suggesting a continuum of effects of prenatal exposure. Evaluation of the encoding and retrieval aspects of memory performance indicated that learning rather than forgetting accounted for the deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Finally, no interaction was found between modality of presentation (verbal and nonverbal) and effects of alcohol exposure on memory performance.
These findings indicate that prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with persistent and specific effects on memory performance, and these problems result from less efficient encoding of information across both verbal and nonverbal modalities. Education and training efforts with this clinical group should take these characteristics into account.


Available from: Claire Coles, Jul 17, 2014
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    • "functioning), a specific profile of brain dysfunction unique to FASD has not been identified (Chudley et al., 2005). Rather, the literature seems to point to a " generalized deficit in processing complex information " (Kodituwakku, 2007, p. 199; for examples, see Aragón et al., 2008), as evidenced by findings of a wide range of reported cognitive deficits associated with PEA, including those of general cognition (Coles et al., 1991), learning and language (Mattson and Riley, 1998), executive function (Rasmussen, 2005), visual-spatial processing (Olsen et al., 1998), memory (Coles et al., 2010), and attention (Lee et al., 2004). Similarly, in a 25 year longitudinal study on the effects of PEA in a primarily middleclass population in Seattle, Streissguth (2007) identified problems throughout childhood in attention, visual-spatial memory, speed of information processing, IQ level, and arithmetic. "
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    ABSTRACT: Parental reports of attention problems and clinical symptomatology of ADHD among children with fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) were assessed in relation to performance on standardized subtests of attentional control/shifting and selective attention from the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch; Manly etal., 1998). The participants included 14 children with FASD with a mean chronological age (CA) of 11.7 years and a mean mental age (MA) of 9.7 years, and 14 typically developing (TD) children with no reported history of prenatal exposure to alcohol or attention problems with a mean CA of 8.4 years and a mean MA of 9.6 years. The children with FASD were rated by their caregivers as having clinically significant attention difficulties for their developmental age. The reported symptomatology for the majority of the children with FASD were consistent with a diagnosis of ADHD, combined type, and only one child had a score within the average range. These reports are consistent with the finding that the children with FASD demonstrated difficulties with attentional control/shifting, but inconsistent with the finding that they outperformed the TD children on a test assessing selective attention. These findings are considered within the context of the complexity in understanding attentional functioning among children with FASD and discrepancies across sources of information and components of attention.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 03/2014; 8:119. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00119 · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    • "The developing hippocampus is susceptible to the teratogenic effects of alcohol. Children and young adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) show significant impairments on a number of behavioral tasks that recruit the hippocampus (Uecker and Nadel, 1996; Hamilton et al., 2003; Willoughby et al., 2008; Bissiere et al., 2011); and structural imaging techniques reveal volumetric alterations of the hippocampal formation that are associated with learning impairments (Willoughby et al., 2008; Coles et al., 2010). The behavioral and anatomical abnormalities present in FASD have been largely reproduced using animal models of developmental alcohol exposure (Driscoll et al., 1990; Cudd, 2005; Gil-Mohapel et al., 2010). "

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    • "Deficits in visual learning and recall persist even after IQ is controlled (Coles, et al., 2010; Kaemingk, et al., 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can cause alterations to the developing brain. The resulting neurobehavioral deficits seen following this exposure are wide-ranging and potentially devastating and, therefore, are of significant concern to individuals, families, communities, and society. These effects occur on a continuum, and qualitatively similar neuropsychological and behavioral features are seen across the spectrum of effect. The term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) has been used to emphasize the continuous nature of the outcomes of prenatal alcohol exposure, with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) representing one point on the spectrum. This paper will provide a comprehensive review of the neuropsychological and behavioral effects of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, including a discussion of the emerging neurobehavioral profile. Supporting studies of lower levels of exposure, brain-behavior associations, and animal model systems will be included when appropriate.
    Neuropsychology Review 06/2011; 21(2):81-101. DOI:10.1007/s11065-011-9167-9 · 4.59 Impact Factor
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