Abstract: Over the last century, the average human lifespan has doubled, rendering the effects of aging on cognition, including language, a vital research topic. Yet the study of the developmental trajectory of language processing has largely focused on comparing linguistic abilities between children and young adults, with less attention being paid to what happens as people grow older. Examining changes in language processing during aging, and what underlies those changes, may also open windows into the neurocognitive underpinnings of language more generally.
In this talk I will give an overview of what we currently know about language in aging, with a focus on words (lexical processing) and how we combine words and parts of words into more complex words, phrases, and sentences (grammatical processing). As we will see, it appears that the extent to which language abilities decline as people age depends heavily on the involvement of other cognitive abilities (e.g., processing speed, executive functions, memory) that themselves are vulnerable to age-related changes.