Understanding the cognitive underpinnings of functional impairments in early dementia: A review

Clarissa Giebel, David Challis, Daniela Montaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: Early dementia is marked by cognitive and functional impairments, and although studies indicate an association between these, detailed analyses exploring this relationship are rare. It is crucial to understand how specific cognitive deficits underlie functional deficits to develop successful cognitive interventions. This paper reviews the evidence of impairment in everyday functioning and in working, long-term and prospective memory in early dementia. Findings are evaluated with respect to the relationship between cognitive and functional impairments.

Methods: From the literature searches, 17 studies on everyday functioning and 40 studies on memory were obtained. Studies were only included if patients had an official diagnosis and were in the early stages of dementia.

Results: Complex instrumental activities of daily living were subject to greater impairment than basic activities of daily living. In particular, early dementia patients struggle with finance tasks; a deficit linked to impaired working memory. Regarding cognition, long-term memory is the earliest form of memory to decline as is well recognised. Evidence also indicates deficits in working and prospective memory, with inconsistent evidence about impairments of the former. A major limitation of the literature is a lack of studies assessing individual everyday activities and the associated error patterns that might occur.

Conclusion: This review critically assesses the status of translational research for everyday activities in early dementia, an area with critical implications for cognitive-based rehabilitation. Further research is required into the detailed assessment of individual everyday activity and specific memory deficits, in order to effectively map cognitive functions onto functional performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)859-875
Number of pages17
JournalAging & Mental Health
Issue number10
Early online date29 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • dementia
  • cognition
  • memory
  • activities of daily living

Cite this