Adult spoken discourse: the influences of age and education

Mackenzie, Catherine (2000) Adult spoken discourse: the influences of age and education. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 35 (2). pp. 269-285. ISSN 1368-2822

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Spoken discourse is regarded as an important component of communication assessment, but data on the discourse characteristics of the adult population, and in particular those who fall into the fastest growing section of the population (those aged over 75), are scant. Therefore, detection of deficit is commonly dependent on the assessor's opinion as to what constitutes normal performance. To determine the effects of age, education and gender on spoken discourse, the conversational interaction and picture description skills of 189 neurologically normal adults were examined. Conversation was appraised with reference to five parameters (initiation, topic maintenance, verbosity, turn taking, reference). Picture description was assessed for relevant content, length, efficiency and the inclusion of extraneous information Level of education did not affect conversational interaction but in picture description those not educated beyond minimal school leaving produced shorter and less complete descriptions. Picture description content and length were not affected by advancing age but the older elderly (aged 75 +) conveyed information with reduced efficiency. Conversational interaction style altered with advancing age, with some suggestion of change in the young elderly (age 60-74), but highly significant differences in respect of the old elderly. Gender had no effect on the parameters of conversation and no significant picture description differences were present in males and females though there were trends towards longer and higher content descriptions in females. The results have important diagnostic implications for those concerned with establishing whether pathology such as stroke has affected communication. On a wider scale, awareness of the effects of advancing age and limited education may facilitate successful communication for all who communicate with the public in a professional capacity.