Event Abstract

Pulmonary Function Affects Language Performance in Aging

  • 1 Boston University School of Medicine, United States
  • 2 VA Boston Healthcare System, United States
  • 3 Boston University School of Public Health, United States
  • 4 The Graduate Center, City University of New York, United States

Background Good pulmonary function (PF) is associated with preservation of cognitive performance, primarily of executive functions, in aging (Albert et al., 1995; Chyou et al., 1996; Emery, Finkel, & Pedersen, 2012; Yohannes & Gindo, 2013). The contribution of PF to older adults’ language abilities, however, has never been explored, to our knowledge. We addressed this gap by examining the effects of PF on older adults’ language functions, as measured by naming and sentence processing accuracy. We predicted similar effects as found for executive functions, given the positive associations between executive functions and sentence processing in aging (e.g., Goral et al., 2011). Methods Data were collected from 190 healthy adults aged 55 to 84 years (M = 71.1, SD = 8.1), with no history of neurological or psychiatric disorders. Procedure PF was measured prior to language testing. Measures included forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC). Language functions were assessed through performance on computer-administered lexical retrieval and sentence processing tasks. Sentence processing was measured using two auditory comprehension tasks: one, of embedded sentences (ES), the other, of sentences with multiple negatives (MN). Lexical retrieval was measured using the Boston Naming Test (BNT) and Action Naming Test (ANT). Performance was scored for percent accuracy. Additionally, lexical retrieval was evaluated with a phonemic fluency task (FAS), which also taps executive function abilities. Statistical Analyses Multiple regression was used to examine the association between pulmonary and language functions, adjusting for age, education, gender, history of respiratory illness, current level of physical activities, and current and past smoking. Results Better PF was associated with better sentence processing and lexical retrieval on naming tasks, but not with phonemic fluency, after adjusting for covariates. Higher FVC was associated with better ES performance (B = 6.64, SE = 2.43, p = .01). Higher FVC and FEV1 were related to better MN performance, but this did not reach statistical significance (FVC: B = 3.68, SE = 2.16, p = .09; FEV1: B = 4.92, SE = 2.64, p = .06). Higher FVC (B = 3.98, SE = 1.44, p = .01) and FEV1 (B = 4.79, SE = 1.75, p = .01) were associated with better ANT performance. The positive association between PF and BNT performance was marginally significant (FVC: B = 4.19, SE = 2.18, p = .06; FEV1: B = 3.51, SE = 2.66, p = .10). Discussion and Conclusion Better PF was associated with higher accuracy on sentence processing and naming-based lexical retrieval tasks, consistent with the conclusion that pulmonary function affects older adults’ language performance. Our findings support the emerging thesis that language changes in aging are influenced by health-related physiological and neural mechanisms (e.g., Albert et al., 2009; Cahana-Amitay et al., 2013). From a clinical perspective, these findings highlight the promise of targeting PF as an intervention for improving language abilities among the elderly.


Albert, M. L., Spiro, A., Sayers, K. J., Cohen, J. A., Brady, C. B., Goral, M., & Obler, L. K. (2009). Effects of health status on words finding in aging. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57(12), 2300-2305.

Albert, M. S., Jones, K., Savage, C. R., Berkman, L., Seeman, T., Blazer, D., et al. (1995). Predictors of cognitive change in older persons: MacArthur studies of successful aging. Psychology and Aging, 10(4), 578-589.

Cahana-Amitay, D., Albert, M. L., Ojo, E. A., Sayers, J., Goral, M., Obler, L. K., & Spiro, A. (2013). Effects of hypertension and diabetes on sentence comprehension in aging. The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(4), 513-521.

Chyou, P. H., White, L. R., Yano, K., Sharp, D. S., Burchfiel, C. M., Chen, R., et al. (1996). Pulmonary function measures as predictors and correlates of cognitive functioning in later life. American Journal of Epidemiology, 143(8), 750–756.

Emery, C. F., Finkel, D., & Pedersen, N. L. (2012). Pulmonary function as a cause of cognitive aging. Psychological Science, 23(9), 1024–1032.

Goral, M., Clark-Cotton, M., Spiro, A., Obler, L. K., Verkuilen, J., &. Albert, M. L. (2011). The contribution of set switching and working memory to sentence processing in older adults. Experimental Aging Research, 37(5), 516-538.

Yohannes, A., & Gindo, T. (2013). Association of pulmonary function and cognitive decline in older adults from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. Chest, 144 (4 Meeting Abstracts), 788A.

Keywords: Language, Aging, Pulmonary Function, sentence processing, lexical retrieval, executive functions

Conference: Academy of Aphasia -- 52nd Annual Meeting, Miami, FL, United States, 5 Oct - 7 Oct, 2014.

Presentation Type: Poster presentation ONLY

Topic: Not student

Citation: Cahana-Amitay D, Lee LO, Oveis AC, Ojo EA, Spiro A, Obler LK and Albert ML (2014). Pulmonary Function Affects Language Performance in Aging. Front. Psychol. Conference Abstract: Academy of Aphasia -- 52nd Annual Meeting. doi: 10.3389/conf.fpsyg.2014.64.00048

Received: 25 Apr 2014; Published Online: 04 Aug 2014.

* Correspondence: Dr. Dalia Cahana-Amitay, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, United States, dcamitay@bu.edu

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