chapter  8
71 Pages

Language and Aging

WithDeborah M. Burke, Meredith A. Shafto

Language in old age has been an active research area since early experimental investigations in cognitive aging (e.g., Craik & Masani, 1967; Riegel & Riegel, 1964). This is undoubtedly because of the profound importance of language throughout the lifespan not only in cognition, but in social interactions as well. Declines in language processing, such as increased difficulty in understanding spoken language or in producing a word while speaking, undermine older adults’ ability and desire to communicate, and can erode evaluation of their language competence by themselves and by others (e.g., Hummert, Garstka, Ryan, & Bonnesen, 2004; Ryan, See, Meneer, & Trovato, 1994). Negative self-appraisal promotes withdrawal from social interaction, and negative appraisal by others promotes their use of oversimplified speech to older adults (Hummert et al., 2004; Kemper, Finter-Urczyk, Ferrell, Harden, & Billington, 1998). This downward cycle highlights the practical significance of identifying patterns of change in language during adulthood and old age, especially since there is good news about aging in this research. The aging pattern is characterized by stability and improvement during adulthood in some language functions, unlike other cognitive abilities such as episodic or working memory which are characterized by quite uniform age-related decrements.