Semantic dementia (SD) is characterized by progressive semantic anomia extending to a multimodal loss of semantic knowledge. Although often considered an early-onset dementia, SD also occurs in later life, when it may be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer disease (AD).
To evaluate late-onset SD in comparison to early-onset SD and to AD.
We identified 74 individuals with SD and then compared those with late-onset SD (≥65 years of age) to those with early-onset SD (<65) on demographic and clinical features. We also compared a subgroup of 23 of the late-onset SD individuals with an equal number of individuals with clinically probable AD.
Twenty-six (35.1%) of the SD individuals were late onset, and 48 (64.9%) were early onset. There were no differences between the two groups on clinical measures, although greater asymmetry of temporal involvement trended to significance in the late-onset SD group. Compared to the 23 AD individuals, the subgroup of 23 late-onset SD individuals had worse performance on confrontational naming, irregular word reading, and face recognition; however, this subgroup displayed better verbal delayed recall and constructions. The late-onset SD individuals also experienced early personality changes at a time when most individuals with AD had not yet developed behavioral changes.
Approximately one-third of SD individuals may be late onset, and the differentiation of late-onset SD from AD can lead to better disease management, education, and prognosis. SD may be distinguished by screening for disproportionate changes in reading, face recognition, and personality.