Operant conditioning in older adults with Alzheimer's disease

Adam P. Spira, Barry A. Edelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Behavioral interventions based on operant principles are commonly attempted to manage agitation in older adults with dementia. The extent to which operant conditioning can occur in persons with particular dementias, however, is unclear. The present study involved use of a button-pressing task to evaluate the sensitivity of the responding of older individuals with and without probable Alzheimer's disease (AD) to changes in schedules of reinforcement. It was expected that participants with AD would acquire the experimental task and that they would demonstrate less sensitivity to changes in schedules of reinforcement than participants without AD. Results indicated that operant conditioning can occur in older adults with AD and that they can respond to different schedules of reinforcement. The responding of 3 participants with AD was highly sensitive to a transition from a fixed interval schedule to an extinction schedule. Two participants with AD demonstrated responding that was sensitive to a more subtle transition. Participants with AD failed to show spontaneous recovery of responding after a delay. The performances of participants with and without AD are compared, and implications of findings for behavioral interventions in AD are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)409-427
Number of pages19
JournalPsychological Record
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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