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Understanding of auditory discourse in older adults: the effects of syntax and working memory

By Chris Salis

Abstract

Background: As people age, language-processing ability changes. While several factors modify discourse comprehension ability in older adults, syntactic complexity of auditory discourse has received scant attention. This is despite the widely researched domain of syntactic processing of single sentences in older adults.\ud \ud Aims: The aims of this study were to investigate the ability of healthy older adults to understand stories that differed in syntactic complexity, and its relation to working memory.\ud \ud Methods & Procedures: A total of 51 healthy adults (divided into three age groups) took part. They listened to brief stories (syntactically simple and syntactically complex) and had to respond to false/true comprehension probes following each story. Working memory capacity (digit span, forward and backward) was also measured.\ud \ud Outcomes & Results: Differences were found in the ability of healthy older adults to understand simple and complex discourse. The complex discourse in particular was more sensitive in discerning age-related language patterns. Only the complex discourse task correlated moderately with age. There was no correlation between age and simple discourse. As far as working memory is concerned, moderate correlations were found between working memory and complex discourse. Education did not correlate with discourse, neither simple, nor complex.\ud \ud Conclusions: Older adults may be less efficient in forming syntactically complex representations and this may be influenced by limitations in working memory.\u

Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:centaur.reading.ac.uk:16088
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