Tool use in neurodegenerative diseases: Planning or technical reasoning?

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Recent works showed that tool use can be impaired in stroke patients because of either planning or technical reasoning deficits, but these two hypotheses have not yet been compared in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. The aim of this study was to address the relationships between real tool use, mechanical problem-solving, and planning skills in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD, n = 32), semantic dementia (SD, n = 16), and corticobasal syndrome (CBS, n = 9). Patients were asked to select and use ten common tools, to solve three mechanical problems, and to complete the Tower of London test. Motor function and episodic memory were controlled using the Purdue Pegboard Test and the BEC96 questionnaire, respectively. A data-transformation method was applied to avoid ceiling effects, and single-case analysis was performed based on raw scores and completion time. All groups demonstrated either impaired or slowed tool use. Planning deficits were found only in the AD group. Mechanical problem-solving deficits were observed only in the AD and CBS groups. Performance in the Tower of London test was the best predictor of tool use skills in the AD group, suggesting these patients had general rather than mechanical problem-solving deficits. Episodic memory seemed to play little role in performance. Motor dysfunction tended to be associated with tool use skills in CBS patients, while tool use disorders are interpreted as a consequence of the semantic loss in SD in line with previous works. These findings may encourage caregivers to set up disease-centred interventions.

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