Older adults complain that deficits in retrieving well known words increase dramatically in old age and become an irksome problem. Research confirms that certain aspects of language production are impaired in old age, namely, word retrieval in fluent speech, in naming objects or people, and in producing words corresponding to definitions. Older adults """"""""know"""""""" these words but are unable to retrieve them. In contrast, older adults show little decline in retrieval of meaning during word comprehension. The goal of the proposed research is to investigate cognitive operations that are essential for word retrieval in order to increase our understanding of age-related retrieval deficits. The research examines activation processes involved in the retrieval of semantic and phonological information, and determines whether those processes involved in production are impaired in old age, whereas those involved in comprehension are spared. Thus we are concerned with cognitive operations that underlie the production and comprehension of language in everyday life. Experiments 1-4 are designed to determine whether there are age- related deficits in activation of phonological information, but not semantic information, and whether these deficits occur in processing pictures, but not words. Experiments 5-6 investigate whether older adults are impaired, relative to younger adults, in naming objects with low familiarity names, but not in retrieving semantic information about these objects. Experiments 7-10 induce tip of the tongue states in order to determine if during these word retrieval failures, activation of the target word is reduced for old relative to young adults. Experiments 11-12 examine whether older adults are impaired in retrieving proper names of famous people, but not in retrieving other types of information, such as occupation. The effect of recent processing of the name on this impairment is examined.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
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Human Development and Aging Subcommittee 3 (HUD)
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Pomona College
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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