Verbal Working Memory in Older Adults: The Roles of Phonological Capacities and Processing Speed Purpose This study examined the potential roles of phonological sensitivity and processing speed in age-related declines of verbal working memory. Method Twenty younger and 25 older adults with age-normal hearing participated. Two measures of verbal working memory were collected: digit span and serial recall of words. Processing speed ... Research Article
Research Article  |   December 01, 2016
Verbal Working Memory in Older Adults: The Roles of Phonological Capacities and Processing Speed
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Susan Nittrouer
    Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, The Ohio State University, Columbus
    Currently affiliated with the University of Florida, Gainesville
  • Joanna H. Lowenstein
    Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, The Ohio State University, Columbus
    Currently affiliated with the University of Florida, Gainesville
  • Taylor Wucinich
    Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, The Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Aaron C. Moberly
    Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, The Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Correspondence to Susan Nittrouer: snittrouer@phhp.ufl.edu
  • Editor: Nancy Tye-Murray
    Editor: Nancy Tye-Murray×
  • Associate Editor: Karen Kirk
    Associate Editor: Karen Kirk×
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Hearing / Research Articles
Research Article   |   December 01, 2016
Verbal Working Memory in Older Adults: The Roles of Phonological Capacities and Processing Speed
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2016, Vol. 59, 1520-1532. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-H-15-0404
History: Received November 23, 2015 , Revised March 29, 2016 , Accepted April 22, 2016
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, December 2016, Vol. 59, 1520-1532. doi:10.1044/2016_JSLHR-H-15-0404
History: Received November 23, 2015; Revised March 29, 2016; Accepted April 22, 2016

Purpose This study examined the potential roles of phonological sensitivity and processing speed in age-related declines of verbal working memory.

Method Twenty younger and 25 older adults with age-normal hearing participated. Two measures of verbal working memory were collected: digit span and serial recall of words. Processing speed was indexed using response times during those tasks. Three other measures were also obtained, assessing phonological awareness, processing, and recoding.

Results Forward and reverse digit spans were similar across groups. Accuracy on the serial recall task was poorer for older than for younger adults, and response times were slower. When response time served as a covariate, the age effect for accuracy was reduced. Phonological capacities were equivalent across age groups, so we were unable to account for differences across age groups in verbal working memory. Nonetheless, when outcomes for only older adults were considered, phonological awareness and processing speed explained significant proportions of variance in serial recall accuracy.

Conclusion Slowing in processing abilities accounts for the primary trajectory of age-related declines in verbal working memory. However, individual differences in phonological capacities explain variability among individual older adults.

Acknowledgments
This work was funded by research Grant R01 DC-000633 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institutes of Health. ResearchMatch, used to recruit some older participants, is supported by Grant UL1TR001070 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The authors thank Lori Altmann for her suggestions on an earlier draft.
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