Analysis of verbal fluency ability in amnestic and non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment

Alyssa Weakley, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Jonathan Anderson
Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology: the Official Journal of the National Academy of Neuropsychologists 2013, 28 (7): 721-31
The purpose of this study was to investigate the pattern of performance on letter and category fluency tests of individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Previous research has suggested that organization strategies, including "clustering" (i.e., groups of related words) and "switching" (i.e., shift from one cluster to another), are important for efficient verbal fluency performance. Participants were 25 individuals with single-domain amnestic MCI (aMCI), 49 with multidomain aMCI, 16 with non-amnestic MCI (naMCI), and 90 cognitively healthy older adults. Fluency performances were analyzed across two 30-s intervals for total words produced, cluster size, and switching. Analyses of variance (ANOVAs) with follow-up tests revealed that the single-domain aMCI group performed comparably with healthy controls on each dependent measure across both fluency tasks. In contrast, the multidomain aMCI group showed performance decrements in total words and switching production compared with healthy controls on both fluency tasks, whereas the naMCI group produced fewer words and switches on letter fluency. Each group generated more words and switches during the first 30-s on both fluency tasks, with the exception of the naMCI group, whose switching on letter fluency did not decrease as the task progressed. As indicated by the single-domain aMCI group's unimpaired performance, our findings demonstrate that verbal fluency performance decreases as domains beyond memory become impaired in MCI. Reduced switching ability, which has been linked to prefrontal executive functioning, contributed the most to the poorer performance of individuals with multidomain MCI and naMCI.

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