Deregulated semantic cognition contributes to object-use deficits in Alzheimer's disease: A comparison with semantic aphasia and semantic dementia

Faye Corbett, Elizabeth Jefferies, Alistair Burns, Matthew A. Lambon Ralph*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Executive control is impaired from the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and this produces deregulated semantic cognition (Corbett, Jefferies, Burns, & Lambon Ralph,; Perry, Watson, & Hodges,). While control deficits should affect semantic retrieval across all modalities, previous studies have typically focused on verbal semantic tasks. Even when non-verbal semantic tasks have been used, these have typically employed simple picture-matching tasks, which may be influenced by abnormalities in covert naming. Therefore, in the present study, we examined 10 patients with AD on a battery of object-use tasks, in order to advance our understanding of the origins of non-verbal semantic deficits in this population. The AD patients' deficits were contrasted with previously published performance on the same tasks within two additional groups of patients, displaying either semantic degradation (semantic dementia) or deregulation of semantic retrieval (semantic aphasia; Corbett, Jefferies, Ehsan, & Lambon Ralph,). While overall accuracy was comparable to the scores in both other groups, the AD patients' object-use impairment most closely resembled that observed in SA; they exhibited poorer performance on comprehension tasks that placed strong demands on executive control. A similar pattern was observed in the expressive domain: the AD and SA groups were relatively good at straightforward object use compared to executively demanding, mechanical puzzles. Error types also differed: while all patients omitted essential actions, the SA and AD groups' demonstrations also featured unrelated intrusions. An association between AD patients' object use and their scores on standard executive measures suggested that control deficits contributed to their non-verbal semantic deficits. Moreover, in a task specifically designed to manipulate executive demand, patients with AD (and SA) exhibited difficulty in thinking flexibly about the non-canonical uses of everyday objects, especially when distracted by semantically related objects. This study provides converging evidence for the notion that a failure of regulatory control contributes to multimodal semantic impairment in AD and uniquely demonstrates this pattern for the highly non-verbal domain of object use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-241
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Neuropsychology
Early online date9 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Conceptual knowledge
  • Non-verbal semantics
  • Object use
  • Semantic aphasia
  • Semantic control
  • Semantic dementia
  • Semantic memory

Cite this