Evaluation of the Influence of Illiteracy on Neuropsychological Performances by Elderly Persons

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The aim of the present study was to verify the role of the primary notions acquired in early school in the formation of a general strategy in elaboration of information. For this purpose we selected a tiny rural village in southern Italy which comprises a substantial number of elderly persons having very little formal schooling. These subjects were screened using a test battery composed of classic neuropsychological tests and reaction-time tests. In the subjects studied we observed a significant correlation between the amount of education and the neuropsychological performances, although no such correlation existed for reaction times. Subjects having little schooling (up to 3 years) performed better than the illiterate persons on the Constructional Apraxia test and on the Raven Matrices. However, the reaction times were similar in these groups. On this basis we claim that reaction-time tests might form a basic tool in evaluating cognitive performances of persons with very little schooling. Further, the primary notions learned during the first few years of schooling induce an improvement in mental strategies that is well-preserved in the normal aging process.

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