Complex language functions and subcortical mechanisms: evidence from Huntington's disease and patients with non-thalamic subcortical lesions.
To evaluate the specificity of the semantic fluency deficit in Alzheimer's disease (AD), we compared the performances of patients with AD, Huntington's disease (HD), vascular dementia (VD), and healthy control subjects on tasks of category (i.e., semantic) and first-letter (i.e., phonemic/lexical) word list generation. As compared to age-appropriate controls, all three patient groups demonstrated relatively more impaired semantic than phonemic fluency. Dementia severity did not affect this relationship. Thus, the greater vulnerability of semantically guided fluency is not specific to AD but occurs in other dementias as well. Deficits in both the organization of semantic memory and retrieval from long-term storage appear to contribute to the relatively poorer performance on semantic than phonemic fluency tasks observed in patients with AD, VD, and HD.