College of Psychology: Faculty Articles


Semantic Interference Deficits and the Detection of Mild Alzheimer’s Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment Without Dementia

Document Type


Publication Date



Alzheimer's Disease, Memory, Proactive Interference, Elderly, Cognition Disorders, Neuropsychological Tests, Semantics, Dementia

Publication Title

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society








Impairment in delayed recall has traditionally been considered a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, vulnerability to semantic interference may reflect early manifestations of the disorder. In this study, 26 mildly demented AD patients (mild AD), 53 patients with mild cognitive impairment without dementia (MCI), and 53 normal community-dwelling elders were first presented 10 common objects that were recalled over 3 learning trials. Subjects were then presented 10 new semantically related objects followed by recall for the original targets. After controlling for the degree of overall memory impairment, mild AD patients demonstrated greater proactive but equivalent retroactive interference relative to MCI patients. Normal elderly subjects exhibited the least amount of proactive and retroactive interference effects. Recall for targets susceptible to proactive interference correctly classified 81.3% of MCI patients and 81.3% of normal elderly subjects, outperforming measures of delayed recall and rate of forgetting. Adding recognition memory scores to the model enhanced both sensitivity (84.6%) and specificity (88.5%). A combination of proactive and retroactive interference measures yielded sensitivity of 84.6% and specificity of 96.2% in differentiating mild AD patients from normal older adults. Susceptibility to proactive semantic interference may be an early cognitive feature of MCI and AD patients presenting for clinical evaluation. (JINS, 2004, 10, 91–100.)


This is a copy of an article published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society © 2004, Cambridge University Press; Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society is available online at: