Extensive research efforts have been directed toward strategies for predicting risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD) prior to the appearance of observable symptoms. Existing approaches for early detection of AD vary in terms of their efficacy, invasiveness, and ease of implementation. Several non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging strategies have been developed for predicting decline in cognitively healthy older adults. This review will survey a number of studies, beginning with the development of a famous name discrimination task used to identify neural regions that participate in semantic memory retrieval and to test predictions of several key theories of the role of the hippocampus in memory. This task has revealed medial temporal and neocortical contributions to recent and remote memory retrieval, and it has been used to demonstrate compensatory neural recruitment in older adults, apolipoprotein E ε4 carriers, and amnestic mild cognitive impairment patients. Recently, we have also found that the famous name discrimination task provides predictive value for forecasting episodic memory decline among asymptomatic older adults. Other studies investigating the predictive value of semantic memory tasks will also be presented. We suggest several advantages associated with the use of semantic processing tasks, particularly those based on person identification, in comparison to episodic memory tasks to study AD risk. Future directions for research and potential clinical uses of semantic memory paradigms are also discussed. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Imaging Brain Aging and Neurodegenerative disease.
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