The activity of reading raises fundamental theoretical and practical questions about healthy cognitive aging. It relies greatly on knowledge of patterns of language and of meaning at the level of words and topics of text. Further, this knowledge must be rapidly accessed so that it can be coordinated with processes of perception, attention, memory and motor control that sustain skilled reading at rates of four-to-five words a second. As such, reading depends both on crystallized semantic intelligence which grows or is maintained through healthy aging, and on components of fluid intelligence which decline with healthy aging. Successful reading is important to older adults because it facilitates completion of everyday tasks that are essential to independent living and because it entails the kind of active mental engagement that can preserve and deepen the cognitive reserve that may mitigate the negative consequences of age-related changes in the brain.
The aims of the study are to determine how aging interacts with individual differences in cognitive abilities to affect word recognition durin reading and the relation between sentence comprehension and memory for text.
These aims will be pursued: (1) by using individual-differences measures that are largely unexploited in the study of aging, (2) by evaluating alternative accounts of why characteristics of eye movements related to word recognition differ in older adults as compared to younger adults, and (3) by evaluating whether a cue-based long-term-working-memory framework can explain how aging affects both the process of sentence comprehension and subsequent memory for text. This project takes an innovative approach to aging and reading in the ways that it assesses individual differences and in how it characterizes and assesses both online reading strategies and the relationship between reading comprehension and memory. The results of the proposed research will advance theoretical understanding of the effects of aging on word recognition during reading and on the relationship between language comprehension and memory. The research will also facilitate future inclusion of precise measures of reading in both basic and applied studies of cognitive aging.
This research will examine how aging affects the coordination of knowledge and processing during reading. Reading is important to older adults because it facilitates completion of everyday tasks that are essential to independent living and because it involves the kind of active mental engagement that can preserve and deepen the cognitive reserve that may mitigate the negative consequences of age-related changes in the brain. Results from the project will allow for a more accurate interpretation and understanding of how mental abilities change with advancing age.