Age-related differences in conversational discourse abilities A comparative study

ABSTRACT. Conversational discourse (CD) is among the most complex tasks in everyday life and relies on multiple cognitive domains (communicative and executive abilities). Alterations in discourse comprehension and production are often present in pathological aging. However, there is still a need to identify changes in healthy aging. Objective: This study aimed to compare young and older adults for the frequency of impaired communicative behaviors on a CD task. Performance was scored according to the Complementary Procedure of Conversational Discourse Analysis (CPCDA), developed based on the CD task from the Montreal Communication Evaluation Battery. Methods: A total of 95 participants (54 young-adults and 41 older adults) were evaluated. The frequency of communicative behaviors was compared between groups using MANCOVA and Chi-square tests. Results: Young adults showed fewer impairments in expression, pragmatics, cohesion, coherence, comprehension and emotional prosody. Older adults showed higher levels of verbal initiative and had fewer word finding difficulties. Communicative behaviors associated with planning and self-monitoring (e.g. repetition of information and syllabic false starts) appear to be common in the speech of healthy individuals in general. Conclusion: Studies which evaluate both discursive and cognitive skills are required to identify age-related changes. This would allow for the development of screening tools for CD assessment and preventive programs.