Semantic deficits are common in individuals with Alzheimer's disease (AD). These deficits notably impact the ability to understand words. In healthy aging, semantic knowledge increases but semantic processing (i.e., the ability to use this knowledge) may be impaired. This systematic review aimed to investigate semantic processing in healthy aging and AD through behavioral responses and the N400 brain event-related potential. The results of the quantitative and qualitative analyses suggested an overall decrease in accuracy and increase in response times in healthy elderly as compared to young adults, as well as in individuals with AD as compared to age-matched controls. The influence of semantic association, as measured by N400 effect amplitudes, appears smaller in healthy aging and even more so in AD patients. Thus, semantic processing differences may occur in both healthy and pathological aging. The establishment of norms of healthy aging for these outcomes that vary between normal and pathological aging could eventually help early detection of AD.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; N400; healthy aging; semantic processing; systematic review.