It is becoming increasingly clear that cardiovascular health and other forms of physical well-being are crucial for healthy cognitive aging. A recent study explored the associations that hypertension and diabetes mellitus (DM) have with sentence comprehension, an important cognitive skill. The investigators found that hypertension and DM each have identifiable, and distinct, associations with sentence comprehension, emphasizing the importance of vascular health for cognitive well-being.
Difficulty with sentence comprehension with aging has been identified in previous research, but its connection to broader physical health has remained unclear. The investigators built on previous research that found an association between hypertension and word-finding difficulties, as well as other research on the cognitive effects of vascular disorder, to explore whether vascular health may be a contributor to difficulties with sentence comprehension among older adults.
The investigators recruited 295 adults between the ages of 55 and 84, and gave each a survey and collected physiological data that included blood pressure and DM assessments. Just under 40 percent of participants had neither hypertension nor diabetes, with about 46 percent having a diagnosis of hypertension but not DM, about 4 percent having DM without hypertension, and 11.5 percent being diagnosed with both hypertension and DM. Participants were also given a hearing assessment, and were then administered two distinct tests of sentence comprehension.
Participants with a diagnosis of DM only performed significantly lower than other participants on the embedded sentences test (assessing the ability to comprehend grammatically complex sentences), while participants with hypertension (either with or without DM) performed more poorly on a test of multiple negatives (comprehending sentences with negative markers such as “not”).
Cahana-Amitay D, Albert ML, Ojo EA, et al. Effects of hypertension and diabetes on sentence comprehension in aging. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Science and Social Science (2013); 68(4): 513–521.