Ageing makes us dyslexic

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

*Corresponding author for this work

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 statusPrint publication - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive ageing
  • Frontostriate loop
  • Metacognitive processes
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Reading; Phonological dyslexia; Nonwords


Dive into the research topics of 'Ageing makes us dyslexic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this