TOT

Higher aerobic fitness levels linked to fewer word failures in older adults

  • A small study found that aerobic fitness was linked to the frequency of tip-of-the-tongue occurrences in older adults.

A small UK study involving 28 healthy older adults (20 women with average age 70; 8 men with average age 67), has found that those with higher levels of aerobic fitness experienced fewer language failures such as 'tip-of-the-tongue' states.

The association between the frequency of tip-of-the-tongue occurrences (TOTs) and aerobic fitness levels existed even when age and vocabulary size was accounted for. Education level didn't affect TOTs, but only a few of the participants hadn't gone to university, so the study wasn't really in a position to test this out.

However, the larger the vocabulary for older adults, the less likely they were to have TOTs. Older adults also had more TOTs over longer words.

The test involved a 'definition filling task', in which they were asked to name famous people, such as authors, politicians and actors, based on 20 questions about them. They were also given the definitions of 20 'low frequency' and 20 'easy' words and asked whether they knew the word relating to the definition.

Aerobic fitness was assessed by a static bike cycling test.

The study included 27 young adults as a control group, to provide a comparison with older adults' language abilities, confirming that older adults did indeed have more TOTs. The young adults' fitness was not tested. All participants were monolingual.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-04/uob-haf042618.php

Reference: 

Segaert et al (2018). Higher physical fitness levels are associated with less language decline in healthy ageing. Scientific Reports. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-24972-1

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Aging - specific failures

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Failing recall not an inevitable consequence of aging

New research suggests age-related cognitive decay may not be inevitable. Tests of 36 adults with an average age of 75 years found that about one out of four had managed to avoid memory decline. Those adults who still had high frontal lobe function had memory skills “every bit as sharp as a group of college students in their early 20s." (But note that most of those older adults who participated were highly educated – some were retired academics). The study also found that this frontal lobe decline so common in older adults is associated with an increased susceptibility to false memories – hence the difficulty often experienced by older people in recalling whether they took a scheduled dose of medication.

The research was presented on August 8 at the American Psychological Association meeting in Toronto.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-08/wuis-fmf080703.php

Older adults better at forgetting negative images

It seems that this general tendency, to remember the good, and let the bad fade, gets stronger as we age. Following recent research suggesting that older people tend to regulate their emotions more effectively than younger people, by maintaining positive feelings and lowering negative feelings, researchers examined age differences in recall of positive, negative and neutral images of people, animals, nature scenes and inanimate objects. The first study tested 144 participants aged 18-29, 41-53 and 65-80. Older adults recalled fewer negative images relative to positive and neutral images. For the older adults, recognition memory also decreased for negative pictures. As a result, the younger adults remembered the negative pictures better. Preliminary brain research suggests that in older adults, the amygdala is activated equally to positive and negative images, whereas in younger adults, it is activated more to negative images. This suggests that older adults encode less information about negative images, which in turn would diminish recall.

Charles, S.T., Mather, M. & Carstensen, L.L. 2003. Aging and Emotional Memory: The Forgettable Nature of Negative Images for Older Adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 132(2), 310-24.

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What causes word finding failures in young and older adults

Journal Article: 

Burke, D.M., MacKay, D.G., Worthley, J.S. & Wade, E. (1991). On the tip of the tongue: What causes word finding failures in young and older adults. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 542-579.

  • Failing to immediately retrieve well-known information does become more common with age.
  • An increase in "tips of the tongue" is evident as early as the mid-thirties.
  • The increase in memory failures applies to names of people and things; abstract words do not get harder to recall.
  • The length of time before the missing word is recalled also increases with age.
  • Older people tend to be less likely than younger people to actively pursue a missing word.

It is common for people to feel as they get older that they more frequently experience occasions when they cannot immediately retrieve a word they know perfectly well ("it's on the tip of my tongue").

Tips of the tongue (TOTs) do indeed increase with age, and this increase is evident as early as the mid-thirties. There are other differences however, in the TOT experiences as people age. For example, older adults are much more likely to "go blank" than either young or mid-age (35-45) adults. That is, younger adults are more likely to be able to retrieve some information about the target word.

At all ages, the most common type of word involved in TOTs is proper names. But while forgetting proper names and object names becomes more common as we get older, interestingly, abstract words are forgotten less.

The most common means of resolution at all ages is that the forgotten word simply "pops up", but as we get older, it takes longer before this happens. "Pop-ups" are relatively more common for older adults. It is suggested that this may be because they are less likely to actively attempt to retrieve the information. According to a questionnaire, older adults are more likely to simply relax and think about something else.

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