Nutter-Upham KE, Saykin AJ, Rabin LA, Roth RM, Wishart HA, Pare N, Flashman LA. Verbal fluency performance in amnestic MCI and older adults with cognitive complaints. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. 2008 May; 23(3): 229-241.
Neuropsychology Program, Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School/DHMC, Lebanon, NH, USA.
Verbal fluency tests are employed regularly during neuropsychological assessments of older adults, and deficits are a common finding in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). Little extant research, however, has investigated verbal fluency ability and subtypes in preclinical stages of neurodegenerative disease. We examined verbal fluency performance in 107 older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI, n=37), cognitive complaints (CC, n=37) despite intact neuropsychological functioning, and demographically matched healthy controls (HC, n=33). Participants completed fluency tasks with letter, semantic category, and semantic switching constraints. Both phonemic and semantic fluency were statistically (but not clinically) reduced in amnestic MCI relative to cognitively intact older adults, indicating subtle changes in the quality of the semantic store and retrieval slowing. Investigation of the underlying constructs of verbal fluency yielded two factors: Switching (including switching and shifting tasks) and Production (including letter, category, and action naming tasks), and both factors discriminated MCI from HC albeit to different degrees. Correlational findings further suggested that all fluency tasks involved executive control to some degree, while those with an added executive component (i.e., switching and shifting) were less dependent on semantic knowledge. Overall, our findings highlight the importance of including multiple verbal fluency tests in assessment batteries targeting preclinical dementia populations and suggest that individual fluency tasks may tap specific cognitive processes.