Verbal fluency performance in dementia of the Alzheimer's type: a meta-analysis

J. D. Henry, Louise Helen Phillips, John Robertson Crawford

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514 Citations (Scopus)


A meta-analysis of 153 studies with 15,990 participants was conducted to compare the magnitude of deficits upon tests of phonemic and semantic fluency for patients with dementia of the Alzheimer's type (DAT) relative to healthy controls. As has been found for patients with focal temporal cortical lesions (but not for patients with focal frontal cortical lesions), DAT patients were significantly more impaired on tests of semantic relative to phonemic fluency (r = 0.73 and 0.57, respectively). Thus, since phonemic and semantic fluency are considered to impose comparable demands upon executive control processes such as effortful retrieval, but the latter is relatively more dependent upon the integrity of semantic memory, these results suggest that the semantic memory deficit in DAT reflects a degradation of the semantic store. Also supporting this conclusion, confrontation naming, a measure of semantic memory that imposes only minimal demands upon effortful retrieval, was significantly more impaired than phonemic fluency (r = 0.60 versus 0.55, respectively). However, since semantic fluency was also significantly more impaired than confrontation naming (r = 0.73 versus 0.61), deficits in semantic memory and effortful retrieval may be additive. Semantic, but not phonemic fluency, was significantly more impaired than measures of verbal intelligence and psychomotor speed. Thus, the semantic memory deficit in DAT qualifies as a differential deficit, but executive dysfunction as indexed by phonemic fluency does not constitute an additional isolated feature of the disorder. Dementia severity was not significantly related to the relative magnitude of deficits upon phonemic and semantic fluency. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1212-1222
Number of pages10
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • semantic memory
  • executive functioning
  • TASK


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