The questions of whether and why language processes change in healthy aging require complicated answers. Although comprehension appears to be more stable across adulthood than does production, there is evidence for age-related changes and also for constancy within both input and output components of language. Further, these changes can be considered at various levels of the language hierarchy, such as sensory input, words, sentences, and discourse. As concluded in several other comprehensive reviews, older adults’ language production ability declines much more noticeably than does their comprehension, presumably because comprehension is able to benefit from contextual processing in a way that production cannot. Specifically, lexical and orthographic retrieval become more difficult during normal aging, and these changes appear to represent the most noticeable age-related declines in language production. Some theories of age-related decline focus on global deterioration of cognitive function, whereas other theories predict changes in specific processes related to language function. Both types of theories have received empirical support as applied to language performance, although additional theoretical development is still needed to capture the patterns of effects. Further, in order to truly understand how cognitive aging impacts the ability to understand and produce language, it is necessary to examine how age-related shifts in goals, expertise, and compensatory strategies influence language processes. There are important implications of research on language and cognitive aging, in that language can play a role in physical health and psychological well-being. In summary, our review of the existing literature on language and cognitive aging supports previous claims that language ability is asymmetrically impacted by age, with smaller overall effects of aging on comprehension than production processes.
Lori E. James and Sara Anne Goring
Christopher J. Plack and Hannah H. Guest
The psychology of hearing loss brings together many different subdisciplines of psychology, including neurophysiology, perception, cognition, and mental health. Hearing loss is defined clinically in terms of pure-tone audiometric thresholds: the lowest sound pressure levels that an individual can detect when listening for pure tones at various frequencies. Audiometric thresholds can be elevated by damage to the sensitive hair cells of the cochlea (the hearing part of the inner ear) caused by aging, ototoxic drugs, noise exposure, or disease. This damage can also cause reductions in frequency selectivity (the ability of the ear to separate out the different frequency components of sounds) and abnormally rapid growth of loudness with sound level. However, hearing loss is a heterogeneous condition and audiometric thresholds are relatively insensitive to many of the disorders that affect real-world listening ability. Hair cell loss and damage to the auditory nerve can occur before audiometric thresholds are affected. Dysfunction of neurons in the auditory brainstem as a consequence of aging is associated with deficits in processing the rapid temporal fluctuations in sounds, causing difficulties in sound localization and in speech and music perception. The impact of hearing loss on an individual can be profound and includes problems in communication (particularly in noisy environments), social isolation, and depression. Hearing loss may also be an important contributor to age-related cognitive decline and dementia.