Dissociating Semantic and Phonemic Search Strategies in the Phonemic Verbal Fluency Task in early Dementia

Hali Lindsay, Philipp Müller, Nicklas Linz, Radia Zeghari, Mario Magued Mina, Alexandra Konig, Johannes Tröger

In: Proceedings of the Seventh Workshop on Computational Linguistics and Clinical Psychology: Improving Access. Meeting of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL-2021) Online Seiten 32-44 Association for Computational Linguistics 2021.


Effective management of dementia hinges on timely detection and precise diagnosis of the underlying cause of the syndrome at an early mild cognitive impairment (MCI) stage. Verbal fluency tasks are among the most often applied tests for early dementia detection due to their efficiency and ease of use. In these tasks, participants are asked to produce as many words as possible belonging to either a semantic category (SVF task) or a phonemic category (PVF task). Even though both SVF and PVF share neurocognitive function profiles, the PVF is typically believed to be less sensitive to measure MCI-related cognitive impairment and recent research on fine-grained automatic evaluation of VF tasks has mainly focused on the SVF. Contrary to this belief, we show that by applying state-of-the-art semantic and phonemic distance metrics in automatic analysis of PVF word productions, in-depth conclusions about production strategy of MCI patients are possible. Our results reveal a dissociation between semantically- and phonemically-guided search processes in the PVF. Specifically, we show that subjects with MCI rely less on semantic- and more on phonemic processes to guide their word production as compared to healthy controls (HC). We further show that semantic similarity-based features improve automatic MCI versus HC classification by 29% over previous approaches for the PVF. As such, these results point towards the yet underexplored utility of the PVF for in-depth assessment of cognition in MCI.


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Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz
German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence