Physical understanding in neurodegenerative diseases


  • Baumard Josselin
  • Lesourd Mathieu
  • Guézouli Léna
  • Osiurak François


  • Technical reasoning
  • Mechanical knowledge
  • Causal reasoning
  • Analogical reasoning
  • Apraxia
  • Tool use

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This quantitative review gives an overview of physical understanding (i.e., the ability to represent and use the laws of physics to interact with the physical world) impairments in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), semantic dementia (SD), and corticobasal syndrome (CBS), as assessed mainly with mechanical problem-solving and tool use tests. This review shows that: (1) SD patients have apraxia of tool use because of semantic tool knowledge deficits, but normal performance in tests of physical understanding; (2) AD and CBS patients show impaired performance in mechanical problem-solving tests, probably not because of intrinsic deficits of physical understanding, but rather because of additional cognitive (AD) or motor impairments (CBS); (3) As a result, the performance in mechanical problem-solving tests is not a good predictor of familiar tool use in dementia; (4) Actual deficits of physical understanding are probably observed only in late stages of neurodegenerative diseases, and associated with functional loss.

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