Semantic Memory in the Clinical Progression of Alzheimer Disease

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Abstract

Background and Objective:

Semantic memory measures may be useful in tracking and predicting progression of Alzheimer disease. We investigated relationships among semantic memory tasks and their 1-year predictive value in women with Alzheimer disease.

Methods:

We conducted secondary analyses of a randomized clinical trial of raloxifene in 42 women with late-onset mild-to-moderate Alzheimer disease. We assessed semantic memory with tests of oral confrontation naming, category fluency, semantic recognition and semantic naming, and semantic density in written narrative discourse. We measured global cognition (Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale, cognitive subscale), dementia severity (Clinical Dementia Rating sum of boxes), and daily function (Activities of Daily Living Inventory) at baseline and 1 year.

Results:

At baseline and 1 year, most semantic memory scores correlated highly or moderately with each other and with global cognition, dementia severity, and daily function. Semantic memory task performance at 1 year had worsened one-third to one-half standard deviation. Factor analysis of baseline test scores distinguished processes in semantic and lexical retrieval (semantic recognition, semantic naming, confrontation naming) from processes in lexical search (semantic density, category fluency). The semantic-lexical retrieval factor predicted global cognition at 1 year. Considered separately, baseline confrontation naming and category fluency predicted dementia severity, while semantic recognition and a composite of semantic recognition and semantic naming predicted global cognition. No individual semantic memory test predicted daily function.

Conclusions:

Semantic-lexical retrieval and lexical search may represent distinct aspects of semantic memory. Semantic memory processes are sensitive to cognitive decline and dementia severity in Alzheimer disease.

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