The free association task: Proposal of a clinical tool for detecting differential profiles of semantic impairment in semantic dementia and alzheimer’s disease

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Abstract

Backround and Objectives: It is widely agreed that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and patients suffering from semantic dementia (SD) might fail clinically administered semantic tasks due to a different combination of underlying cognitive deficits: namely, degraded semantic representations in SD and degraded representations plus executive control deficit in AD. However, no easy administrable test or test battery for differentiating the semantic impairment profile in these populations has been devised yet. Materials and Methods: In this study, we propose a new easy administrable task based on a free association procedure (F-Assoc) to be used in conjunction with category fluency (Cat-Fl) and letter fluency (Lett-Fl) for quantifying pure representational and pure control deficits, thus teasing apart the semantic profile of SD and AD patients. Results: In a sample of 10 AD and 10 SD subjects, matched for disease severity, we show that indices of asymmetric performance contrasting F-Assoc and each of the two verbal fluency tasks yield a clearly distinguishable discrepancy pattern across SD and AD. We also provide empirical support for the validity of an asymmetry measure contrasting F-Assoc and Cat-FL as an index of control impairment. Conclusions: The present study suggests that the free association procedure provides a pure measure of degradation of semantic representations avoiding the confound of possible concomitant executive deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1171
JournalMedicina (Lithuania)
Volume57
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Keywords

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Free associations
  • Semantic dementia
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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