Research regarding learning in Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients has been mixed. Learning capacity might be better indexed using a score that reflects the interaction between the learning slope and total recall, referred to as the Cumulative Word Learning (CWL) score. We compared a group of AD patients to normal participants using a traditional index of learning and the CWL score that were derived from the Hopkins Verbal Learning Test - Revised (HVLT-R). The HVLT-R is a supra-span, list-learning test containing 12 words from three semantic categories. The results indicated that the sample of AD patients performed within the average range, using the traditional learning z score. Although mild AD patients were not found to differ from controls in the traditional learning z score, a significant difference was noted for the CWL score. The moderate AD patients differed from the normal controls in both learning measures. Furthermore, unlike the traditional learning score, the CWL score was a significant predictor of overall cognitive functioning, as indexed using their Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score. Thus, the CWL score might be a more sensitive indicator overall of total learning capacity and may be useful in staging Alzheimer's disease because of increased resilience to floor effects. © 2009 The International Neuropsychological Society.