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Aging affects many aspects of message production and processing. The nature of conversation changes: older adults mix talk about the past with talk about the present, sharing by ‘painful self-disclosures’ of bereavement, ill health, and personal problems. Younger adults adopt elder-speak, a speech style characterized by exaggerated pitch and intonation, simplified grammar, limited vocabulary, a slow rate, ‘we’ pronouns, and diminutives like ‘honey.’ Elder-speak reinforces negative stereotypes of older adults as “child like”, and expresses a sense of disrespect, limiting conversational interactions and contributing to older adults’ social isolation and cognitive decline.
Older adults’ conversational skills may be affected by the breakdown of inhibition, whereby irrelevant thoughts, personal preoccupations, and idiosyncratic associations intrude. Older adults’ speech can be verbose and off-target. Older adults often experience the inability to recall a well-known word, name, or title when connections between the idea to words’ phonology are broken. Such broken links become more numerous with aging, disrupting conversations, shifting the conversation from the topic under discussion to a focus on the older adults’ memory problems. Dementia accelerates and exaggerates age-related changes, especially the use of elder-speak, off-target verbosity, and word-finding problems, which contribute to caregiver burden, poor care, and poor quality of life for those with dementia.
A growing area of investigation concerns multitasking. The demands of even walking and talking at the same time may over-task older adults, detracting from their ability to process or produce messages and contributing to increased risk for falls or other accidents. New technologies offer the possibility of remediating for many agerelated problems but also create new problems: how to optimize synthesized speech for older adults? Will older adults accept and trust health and medical recommendations administered by a ‘nurse-bot’? how can websites be designed to facilitate older adults’ search and retrieval of information?
- Kemper, S. (2011). The effects of aging on language and communication. In Peach & L. Shapiro (eds.), Cognition and acquired language disorders: A process-oriented approach. San Diego: Elsevier.