Demographic Effects on Longitudinal Semantic Processing, Working Memory, and Cognitive Speed

Jet Vonk, Eve Higby, Alexandre Nikolaev, Dalia Cahana-Amitay, Avron Spiro III, Martin L Albert, Loraine K. Obler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To better understand and compare effects of aging and education across domains of language and cognition, we investigated whether (a) these domains show different associations with age and education, (b) these do- mains show similar patterns of age-related change over time, and (c) education moderates the rate of decline in these domains.
Method: We analyzed data from 306 older adults aged 55–85 at baseline of whom 116 returned for follow-up 4–8 years later. An exploratory factor analysis identified domains of language and cognition across a range of tasks. A confirmatory factor analysis analyzed cross-sectional associations of age and education with these domains. Subsequently, mixed linear models analyzed longitudinal change as a function of age and moderation by education.
Results: We identified 2 language domains, that is, semantic control and semantic memory efficiency, and 2 cognitive domains, that is, working memory and cognitive speed. Older age negatively affected all domains except semantic memory efficiency, and higher education positively affected all domains except cognitive speed at baseline. In language domains, a steeper age-related decline was observed after age 73–74 compared to younger ages, while cognition declined linearly with age. Greater educational attainment did not protect the rate of decline over time in any domain.
Discussion: Separate domains show varying effects of age and education at baseline, language versus cognitive domains show dissimilar patterns of age-related change over time, and education does not moderate the rate of decline in these domains. These findings broaden our understanding of age effects on cognitive and language abilities by placing observed age differences in context.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournals of Gerontology. Series B: Psychological Sciences & Social Sciences
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)1850–1862
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 515 Psychology
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