Cognitive flexibility and spoken discourse in younger and older adults



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Spoken discourse production and the cognitive flexibility component of executive function were examined in 40 neurologically intact younger and older adults. Two spoken discourse tasks differing in complexity were administered. Resulting discourse samples were analyzed for complexity and quality. Sentential analyses included: length of t-units (mean number of morphemes); amount of embedding (number of clauses per tunit); and percent of dependent clauses. Total words and total t-units also were tabulated. Qualitative analyses included the number of indefinite terms used in proportion to total words, percent of mazed words per total words, and percent of utterances with mazes. Verbal and nonverbal fluency tests were administered to assess cognitive flexibility. No definitive support for an age group by cognitive flexibility effect emerged. Overall, spoken discourse ability did not decrease with age. Rather, as measured by a relatively complex discourse production task, younger and older adults differed in the percent of utterances containing mazes. Cognitive flexibility, however, as measured by verbal and nonverbal fluency tasks, decreased with age. Results of this study provide preliminary support for further exploration of the relationship between age, spoken discourse.