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Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2017;44(1-2):35-44. doi: 10.1159/000477538. Epub 2017 Jun 17.

Qualitative Assessment of Verbal Fluency Performance in Frontotemporal Dementia.

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Alzheimer Center and Department of Neurology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



Verbal fluency is impaired in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and primary progressive aphasia (PPA). This study explored qualitative differences in verbal fluency (clustering of words, switching between strategies) between FTD and PPA variants.


Twenty-nine patients with behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD) and 50 with PPA (13 nonfluent/agrammatic, 14 semantic, and 23 logopenic) performed a semantic and letter fluency task. Clustering (number of multiword strings) and switching (number of transitions between clustered and nonclustered words) were recorded by two independent raters. Between-group differences, associations with memory, language, and executive functioning, and longitudinal change (subsample) in clustering and switching were examined.


Interrater reliability was high (median 0.98). PPA patients generated (a) smaller (number of) clusters on semantic and letter fluency than bvFTD patients (p < 0.05). Semantic variant patients used more switches than nonfluent/agrammatic or logopenic variant patients (p < 0.05). Clustering in semantic fluency was significantly associated with memory and language (range standardized regression coefficients 0.24-0.38). Switching in letter fluency was associated with executive functioning (0.32-0.35).


Clustering and switching in verbal fluency differed between patients with subtypes of FTD and PPA. Qualitative aspects of verbal fluency provide additional information on verbal ability and executive control which can be used for clinically diagnostic purposes.


Dementia; Executive control; Primary progressive aphasia; Semantic memory

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