High amyloid burden is associated with fewer specific words during spontaneous speech in individuals with subjective cognitive decline

Sander C. J. Verfaillie, Jurriaan Witteman, Rosalinde E. R. Slot, Ilanah J. Pruis, Lieke E. W. Vermaat, Niels D. Prins, Niels O. Schiller, Mark van de Wiel, Philip Scheltens, Bart N. M. van Berckel, Wiesje M. van der Flier, Sietske A. M. Sikkes

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Self-perceived word-finding difficulties are common in aging individuals as well as in Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Language and speech deficits are difficult to objectify with neuropsychological assessments. We therefore aimed to investigate whether amyloid, an early AD pathological hallmark, is associated with speech-derived semantic complexity. We included 63 individuals with subjective cognitive decline (age 64 ± 8, MMSE 29 ± 1), with amyloid status (positron emission tomography [PET] scans n = 59, or Aβ1-42 cerebrospinal fluid [CSF] n = 4). Spontaneous speech was recorded using three open-ended tasks (description of cookie theft picture, abstract painting and a regular Sunday), transcribed verbatim and subsequently, linguistic parameters were extracted using T-scan computational software, including specific words (content words, frequent, concrete and abstract nouns, and fillers), lexical complexity (lemma frequency, Type-Token-Ratio) and syntactic complexity (Developmental Level scale). Nineteen individuals (30%) had high levels of amyloid burden, and there were no differences between groups on conventional neuropsychological tests. Using multinomial regression with linguistic parameters (in tertiles), we found that high amyloid burden is associated with fewer concrete nouns (ORmiddle (95%CI): 7.6 (1.4–41.2), ORlowest: 6.7 (1.2–37.1)) and content words (ORlowest: 6.3 (1.0–38.1). In addition, we found an interaction for education between high amyloid burden and more abstract nouns. In conclusion, high amyloid burden was modestly associated with fewer specific words, but not with syntactic complexity, lexical complexity or conventional neuropsychological tests, suggesting that subtle spontaneous speech deficits might occur in preclinical AD.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-192
Number of pages9
Early online date7 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyloid burden
  • Early diagnosis
  • Linguistics
  • Preclinical AD
  • Spontaneous speech
  • Subjective cognitive decline

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