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Semantic dementia – causes, side effects and treatments at

Thursday, August 02, 2018 by

Semantic dementia, which is also referred to as semantic variant primary progressive aphasia, is a sub-type of frontotemporal dementia, a progressive disorder of the brain. The condition describes the gradual worsening of both expressive and receptive language function. This is typically characterized as the loss of understanding of what things are or their meaning.

Semantic dementia is different from Alzheimer’s disease, in that episodic memory is usually unimpaired, meaning that patients are normally able to remember life events, although they are unable to properly express them.

Diagnosing the condition involves a multi-faceted approach as neurologists still do not fully understand dementia and how it occurs. That said, three diagnostic criteria have been proposed:

  • Clinical diagnosis
    • Both of the following: impaired naming and single-word comprehension.
    • Three of the following: impaired object knowledge, surface dyslexia, spared repetition, or spared speech production.
  • Imaging diagnosis
    • Both of the following: clinical diagnosis of semantic variance, and predominant anterior temporal lobe atrophy.
  • Pathology diagnosis
    • Both of the following: clinical diagnosis of semantic variance, and histopathologic evidence of specific neurodegenerative pathology.

Known symptoms of semantic dementia

Symptoms of semantic dementia include:

  • Having problems finding the right word – Patients may use another word instead of the correct one, usually of the same category. For example, some patients may look at a dog and call it a “cat” or simply call it a “thing”.
  • Losing understanding of what words mean – Patients will often ask for the meaning of a word that they have previously known.
  • Discussing topics vaguely – Patients may talk about a topic in a vague manner.
  • Having difficulties understanding what other people are saying.
  • Displaying problems with reading and spelling.

As the disease progresses, patients may no longer recognize objects and faces. They may also lose the ability to remember day-to-day events.

In some cases, patients with semantic dementia may display behavioral problems such as becoming more obsessive or repetitive in their movements. It has also been noted that some patients with semantic dementia develop an excessive craving for sweet foods.

Body systems harmed by semantic dementia

This condition affects the front and sides of the brain, which is why it falls under the umbrella of frontotemporal dementia.

Disturbingly, unlike other forms of dementia, semantic dementia tends to affect younger people (around 45 to 65 years old). It also tends to develop slowly and gradually worsen over several years.

Food items or nutrients that may prevent semantic dementia

  • Leafy greens – These foods are rich in folate and vitamin B9 which have been shown to improve cognition.
  • Beans and legumes – Studies suggest that these food items boost acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter critical for brain function.
  • Cruciferous vegetables – Broccoli and the like contain carotenoids that lower amino acids linked with cognitive impairment.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – These acids are known to keep your  brain in tip-top shape.
  • Nuts – These contain various levels of omega-3s, omega-6s, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, and vitamin B6 that support brain health.

Treatments, management plans for semantic dementia

There is no cure for semantic dementia and most healers suggest management plans instead. These typically include a dramatic change in lifestyle in terms of diet and exercise.

Patients are encouraged to lessen their intake of processed food and eat more fruits and vegetables. Daily exercise is also suggested.

Some botanical reviews suggest that ginkgo supplements may help slow down the progression of dementia.

Where to learn more


Semantic dementia is the gradual worsening of both expressive and receptive language function.

People with semantic dementia have difficulties remembering words.

Unlike other forms of dementia, the condition can affect relatively younger people (those aged 45 to 65 years old).

There is no cure for semantic dementia.

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