Comprehension of complex instructions deteriorates with age and vascular morbidity

Age (Dordr). 2011 Mar;33(1):101-6. doi: 10.1007/s11357-010-9161-9. Epub 2010 Jun 30.


Verbal comprehension is critical to the success of medical counseling. Here, we tested how age and vascular risk factors affect the ability to understand complex instructions. Verbal comprehension, cognitive functions, and vascular risk factors were assessed in 39 mid- and 38 late-life community-dwelling individuals (48 to 59 years and >59 years of age, respectively). To test for verbal comprehension, we used a modified version of the Token Test (TT). In midlife individuals, education (β = 0.572, p < 0.05) was the only predictor for extended-TT performance. In late-life individuals, age (β = -1.015, p < 0.001) and body mass index (β = -0.651, p = 0.003) were significantly correlated with extended-TT performance and explained 50% of the variance in extended-TT performance (adjusted R (2) = 0.503). This relation is only partly explained by conventional neuropsychological measures as the ones used in our test battery. These results indicate that aging and overweight impair comprehension of complex instructions. Therefore, medical counseling appropriate for midlife individuals may be less successful in elderly people and particularly in those with metabolic disturbances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors