Ageing makes us dyslexic

Trevor A. Harley, Tracey M. Oliver, Lesley J. Jessiman, Siobhan B.G. MacAndrew

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: The effects of typical ageing on spoken language are well known: word production is disproportionately affected while syntactic processing is relatively well preserved. Little is known, however, about how ageing affects reading.

    Aims: What effect does ageing have on written language processing? In particular, how does it affect our ability to read words? How does it affect phonological awareness (our ability to manipulate the sounds of our language)?

    Methods & Procedures: We tested 14 people with Parkinson's disease (PD), 14 typically ageing adults (TAA), and 14 healthy younger adults on a range of background neuropsychological tests and tests of phonological awareness. We then carried out an oral naming experiment where we manipulated consistency, and a nonword repetition task where we manipulated the word-likeness of the nonwords.

    Outcomes & Results: We find that normal ageing causes individuals to become mildly phonologically dyslexic in that people have difficulty pronouncing nonwords. People with Parkinson's disease perform particularly poorly on language tasks involving oral naming and metalinguistic processing. We also find that ageing causes difficulty in repeating nonwords. We show that these problems are associated with a more general difficulty in processing phonological information, supporting the idea that language difficulties, including poorer reading in older age, can result from a general phonological deficit.

    Conclusions: We suggest that neurally this age-induced dyslexia is associated with frontal deterioration (and perhaps deterioration in other regions) and cognitively to the loss of executive processes that enable us to manipulate spoken and written language. We discuss implications for therapy and treatment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)490-505
    Number of pages16
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • ageing
    • dyslexia
    • Parkinson's disease


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