Semantic dementia (SD) is associated with a progressive, relatively selective, degeneration of semantic memory (both verbal and nonverbal facts and knowledge). Episodic memory, however, is thought to be relatively preserved. This study aimed to further assess the nonverbal, incidental, episodic memory profile associated with SD using deferred imitation, which measures recall by the nonverbal imitation of novel action sequences after a 24-h delay. The performance of six individuals with SD was compared to that of 10 healthy age- and education-matched controls. After a baseline phase, where sets of objects were presented for manipulation to measure the spontaneous production of relevant action sequences, participants were shown eight novel three-step action sequences with the sets of objects. The component actions of the sequences were causally related in four of the eight series and arbitrarily related in the remaining four, to investigate the influence of sequence structure on memory performance. All participants produced more target actions and pairs in the arbitrary sequences 24-h after demonstration compared to baseline, indicating memory for the sequences, but only the control group showed significant memory for the order of the causal sequences (pairs). Furthermore, and perhaps more strikingly, only the control participants showed a recall advantage for the causal relative to the arbitrary sequences, indicating that they, but not the patients, could take advantage of the semantic nature of these sequences. Together these findings suggest that individuals with SD show some nonverbal episodic memory, even after a 24-h delay, and that new anterograde memory can to some extent be established without significant support from semantic memory.Highlights
▸ Patients with semantic dementia (SD) showed memory for nonverbal action sequences. ▸ Only controls showed memory for the order of causal action sequences. ▸ Only controls showed a recall advantage for causal relative to arbitrary sequences. ▸ New anterograde memory can be formed without support from semantic memory.