Event-relating to potential dementia. Semantic processing in the course of healthy and pathological aging

Grieder, Matthias (2012). Event-relating to potential dementia. Semantic processing in the course of healthy and pathological aging. (Dissertation, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatric Neurophysiology)

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While most healthy elderly are able to manage their everyday activities, studies showed that there are both stable and declining abilities during healthy aging. For example, there is evidence that semantic memory processes which involve controlled retrieval mechanism decrease, whereas the automatic functioning of the semantic network remains intact. In contrast, patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) suffer from episodic and semantic memory impairments aggravating their daily functioning. In AD, severe episodic as well as semantic memory deficits are observable. While the hallmark symptom of episodic memory decline in AD is well investigated, the underlying mechanisms of semantic memory deterioration remain unclear. By disentangling the semantic memory impairments in AD, the present thesis aimed to improve early diagnosis and to find a biomarker for dementia. To this end, a study on healthy aging and a study with dementia patients were conducted investigating automatic and controlled semantic word retrieval. Besides the inclusion of AD patients, a group of participants diagnosed with semantic dementia (SD) – showing isolated semantic memory loss – was assessed. Automatic and controlled semantic word retrieval was measured with standard neuropsychological tests and by means of event-related potentials (ERP) recorded during the performance of a semantic priming (SP) paradigm. Special focus was directed to the N400 or N400-LPC (late positive component) complex, an ERP that is sensitive to the semantic word retrieval. In both studies, data driven topographical analyses were applied. Furthermore, in the patient study, the combination of the individual baseline cerebral blood flow (CBF) with the N400 topography of each participant was employed in order to relate altered functional electrophysiology to the pathophysiology of dementia. Results of the aging study revealed that the automatic semantic word retrieval remains stable during healthy aging, the N400-LPC complex showed a comparable topography in contrast to the young participants. Both patient groups showed automatic SP to some extent, but strikingly the ERP topographies were altered compared to healthy controls. Most importantly, the N400 was identified as a putative marker for dementia. In particular, the degree of the topographical N400 similarity was demonstrated to separate healthy elderly from demented patients. Furthermore, the marker was significantly related to baseline CBF reduction in brain areas relevant for semantic word retrieval. Summing up, the first major finding of the present thesis was that all groups showed semantic priming, but that the N400 topography differed significantly between healthy and demented elderly. The second major contribution was the identification of the N400 similarity as a putative marker for dementia. To conclude, the present thesis added evidence of preserved automatic processing during healthy aging. Moreover, a possible marker which might contribute to an improved diagnosis and lead consequently to a more effective treatment of dementia was presented and has to be further developed.

Item Type:

Thesis (Dissertation)


04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy > Psychiatric Neurophysiology (discontinued)
04 Faculty of Medicine > University Psychiatric Services > University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

UniBE Contributor:

Grieder, Matthias and Dierks, Thomas


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health


[UNSPECIFIED] Synapsis Foundation


[UNSPECIFIED] Semantic memory dysfunctions in Alzheimer’s Dementia: investigation of affected subprocesses by electrophysiological and cerebral blood flow (ASL-MRI) markers




Matthias Grieder

Date Deposited:

04 Dec 2014 15:32

Last Modified:

12 Dec 2014 08:45





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