Moving in Semantic Space in Prodromal and Very Early Alzheimer's Disease: An Item-Level Characterization of the Semantic Fluency Task

Aino M. Saranpää*, Sasa L. Kivisaari, Riitta Salmelin, Sabine Krumm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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The semantic fluency task is a widely used clinical tool in the diagnostic process of Alzheimer's disease. The task requires efficient mapping of the semantic space to produce as many items as possible within a semantic category. We examined whether healthy volunteers (n = 42) and patients with early Alzheimer's disease (24 diagnosed with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment and 18 with early Alzheimer's dementia) take advantage of and travel in the semantic space differently. With focus on the animal fluency task, we sought to emulate the detailed structure of the multidimensional semantic space by utilizing word2vec-method from the natural language processing domain. To render the resulting multidimensional semantic space visually comprehensible, we applied a dimensionality reduction algorithm (t-SNE), which enabled a straightforward division of the semantic space into sub-categories. Moving in semantic space was quantified with the number of items created, sub-categories visited, and switches and returns to these sub-categories. Multinomial logistic regression models were used to predict the diagnostic group with these independent variables. We found that returning to a sub-category provided additional information, besides the number of words produced in the task, to differentiate patients with Alzheimer's dementia from both amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment patients and healthy controls. The results suggest that the frequency of returning to a sub-category may serve as an additional aid for clinicians in diagnosing early Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, our results imply that the combination of word2vec and subsequent t-SNE-visualization may offer a valuable tool for examining the semantic space and its sub-categories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number777656
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment
  • semantic fluency
  • semantic memory
  • t-SNE
  • verbal fluency


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