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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000 Apr;903:34-8.

Linguistic ability in early life and the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease and cerebrovascular disease. Findings from the Nun Study.

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1
Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexington 40536-0230, USA.

Abstract

Findings from the Nun Study indicate that low linguistic ability in early life has a strong association with dementia and premature death in late life. In the present study, we investigated the relationship of linguistic ability in early life to the neuropathology of Alzheimer's disease and cerebrovascular disease. The analyses were done on a subset of 74 participants in the Nun Study for whom we had handwritten autobiographies completed some time between the ages of 19 and 37 (mean = 23 years). An average of 62 years after writing the autobiographies, when the participants were 78 to 97 years old, they died and their brains were removed for our neuropathologic studies. Linguistic ability in early life was measured by the idea (proposition) density of the autobiographies, i.e., a standard measure of the content of ideas in text samples. Idea density scores from early life had strong inverse correlations with the severity of Alzheimer's disease pathology in the neocortex: Correlations between idea density scores and neurofibrillary tangle counts were -0.59 for the frontal lobe, -0.48 for the temporal lobe, and -0.49 for the parietal lobe (all p values < 0.0001). Idea density scores were unrelated to the severity of atherosclerosis of the major arteries at the base of the brain and to the presence of lacunar and large brain infarcts. Low linguistic ability in early life may reflect suboptimal neurological and cognitive development, which might increase susceptibility to the development of Alzheimer's disease pathology in late life.

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