Tröger, Johannes; Linz, Nicklas; König, Alexandra; Robert, Philippe; Alexandersson, Jan; Peter, Jessica; Kray, Jutta

Exploitation vs. Exploration – Computational temporal and semantic analysis explains semantic verbal fluency impairment in Alzheimer’s disease

Neuropsychologia, 131, pp. 53-61, 2019.

Impaired Semantic Verbal Fluency (SVF) in dementia due to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and its precursor Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is well known. Yet, it remains open whether this impairment mirrors the breakdown of semantic memory retrieval processes or executive control processes. Therefore, qualitative analysis of the SVF has been proposed but is limited in terms of methodology and feasibility in clinical practice. Consequently, research draws no conclusive picture which of these afore-mentioned processes drives the SVF impairment in AD and MCI. This study uses a qualitative computational approach – combining temporal and semantic information – to investigate exploitation and exploration patterns as indicators for semantic memory retrieval and executive control processes. Audio SVF recordings of 20 controls (C, 66-81 years), 55 MCI (57-94 years) and 20 AD subjects (66-82 years) were assessed while groups were matched according to age and education. All groups produced, on average, the same amount of semantically related items in rapid succession within word clusters. Conversely, towards AD, there was a clear decline in semantic as well as temporal exploration patterns between clusters. Results strongly point towards preserved exploitation – semantic memory retrieval processes – and hampered exploration – executive control processes – in AD and potentially in MCI.