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In discourse, older adults tend to be more verbose and more disfluent than young adults, especially when the task is difficult and when it places few constraints on the content of the utterance. This may be due to (a) language-specific deficits in planning the content and syntactic structure of utterances or in selecting and retrieving words from the mental lexicon, (b) a general deficit in inhibiting irrelevant information, or (c) the selection of a specific speech style. The possibility that older adults have a deficit in lexical retrieval is supported by the results of picture naming studies, in which older adults have been found to name objects less accurately and more slowly than young adults, and by the results of definition naming studies, in which older adults have been found to experience more tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states than young adults. The available evidence suggests that these age differences are largely due to weakening of the connections linking word lemmas to phonological word forms, though adults above 70 years of age may have an additional deficit in lemma selection. © 2006 Psychology Press Ltd.

Original publication




Journal article


Language and Cognitive Processes

Publication Date





238 - 290