Two experiments examined whether impairments in recognition memory in early stage Alzheimer's disease (AD) were due to deficits in encoding contextual information. Normal elderly (NE) and patients diagnosed with mild stage AD learned one of two tasks. In Experiment 1 correct recognition memory required participants to remember not only what items they had experienced on a given trial but also when they had experienced them; Experiment 2 required that participants remember only what they had seen, not when they had seen it. Large recognition memory differences were found between the AD and NE groups in the experiment where time tagging was crucial for successful performance. An error analysis indicated that this was not due to the perseveration of previous learned responses. In Experiment 2, the only requisite for successful recognition was remembering what one had experienced; memory of the temporal record was not necessary for successful performance. In this instance, recognition memory for the NE and AD groups was identical. Taken together these results suggest that memory deficits found in early stage AD are partly due to impaired processing of contextual cues that provide crucial information about when events occur.