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Neuropsychol Rehabil. 2016;26(1):126-56. doi: 10.1080/09602011.2014.1003947. Epub 2015 Jan 22.

How to constrain and maintain a lexicon for the treatment of progressive semantic naming deficits: Principles of item selection for formal semantic therapy.

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a Eleanor M. Saffran Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders , Temple University , Philadelphia , PA , USA.


The progressive degradation of semantic memory is a common feature of many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and the semantic variant of primary progressive aphasia (svPPA). One of the most functionally debilitating effects of this semantic impairment is the inability to name common people and objects (i.e., anomia). Clinical management of a progressive, semantically based anomia presents extraordinary challenges for neurorehabilitation. Techniques such as errorless learning and spaced-retrieval training show promise for retraining forgotten words. However, we lack complementary detail about what to train (i.e., item selection) and how to flexibly adapt the training to a declining cognitive system. This position paper weighs the relative merits of several treatment rationales (e.g., restore vs. compensate) and advocates for maintenance of known words over reacquisition of forgotten knowledge in the context of semantic treatment paradigms. I propose a system for generating an item pool and outline a set of core principles for training and sustaining a micro-lexicon consisting of approximately 100 words. These principles are informed by lessons learned over the course of a Phase I treatment study targeting language maintenance over a 5-year span in Alzheimer's disease and SvPPA. Finally, I propose a semantic training approach that capitalises on lexical frequency and repeated training on conceptual structure to offset the loss of key vocabulary as disease severity worsens.


Anomia; Dementia; Item selection; Language disorder; Language treatment; Primary progressive aphasia

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