Lexical Semantic and Associative Priming in Alzheimer's Disease

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Semantic memory impairment was investigated in patients with probable Alzheimer's disease (AD) using a threshold oral word reading task to assess priming of different lexical relationships. Healthy elderly controls showed significant priming for associatively related nouns (tempest–teapot) and also for nouns semantically related either because both designate basic-level exemplars of a common superordinate category (cousin–nephew) or because the target names the superordinate category of the prime (daughter–relative). AD patients, in contrast, showed preserved priming of lexical associates but impaired priming of certain semantic relationships. They showed no priming between words designating coordinate exemplars within a category, despite preserved priming of the superordinate category label. Findings are consistent with the view that at least part of the semantic deficit in AD is due to disruption of semantic knowledge that affects relationships among basic-level concepts, more than the relationships between these concepts and their corresponding superordinate category of membership.

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