Comprehension cueing strategies in elderly: a window into cognitive decline?


Language abilities gradually decline as we age, but the mechanisms of this decline are not well understood. The present study investigated comprehension of subject vs. object who and which direct questions (DQs), embedded questions (EQs) and relative clauses (RCs) in 39 cognitively healthy native speakers of Spanish. The elderly participants (n = 21) were further classified according to their scores on a general cognitive test, Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), into a group with low MoCA scores, LM (n = 10), and a group with normal MoCA scores, NM (n = 11). A mixed-model, repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed that the elderly participants achieved significantly worse accuracy and speed than the young participants (Y) in all tasks. Accuracy was significantly lower and reaction times significantly longer in the LM group compared to the NM group in DQs and RCs. Accuracy in comprehension of EQs was also worse in LM compared to NM, with no significant difference in RTs between the two groups. The results are explained within the competition model and reliance on a language-specific cueing strategy. Reliance on cueing strategies in sentence comprehension may be an effective indicator of cognitive decline associated with aging.

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