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The Relationship between Verbal “Intelligence,” Age, and Verbal Memory in Healthy Individuals in Their Eighties

22 July 2011


Verbal intelligence has been shown to affect performance on verbal memory tests for healthy young adults. However, it is not clear that the association between verbal intelligence and memory is the same for healthy older adults because, while performance on verbal intelligence measures remains relatively stable in older age, there is significant normal age-related memory decline. In fact, the magnitude of age-related decline in verbal memory performance is so substantial that there may be a significant difference between the memory performance of individuals in their early (i.e. 80 to 84) versus late (i.e. 85 to 89) eighties. This raises the possibility of an interactive effect between verbal intelligence and age on verbal memory for individuals in their 9th decade. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of verbal intelligence and age on verbal memory test performance in the elderly. One hundred thirty-nine healthy participants aged 80-89 were divided into four groups based on Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – III (WAIS-III) Vocabulary scaled score: average/below average (< 11) and above average (> 12); and age: early 80’s (80 to 84) and late 80’s (85 to 89). The groups were compared on Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) total and delayed recall scores. Results from two-way ANOVA indicated a significant interaction effect between age and Vocabulary score for the RAVLT total score. ANOVA pairwise comparisons revealed a between groups difference that is inconsistent with the established presence of age-related memory decline that yields the current data invalid and ungeneralizable: for individuals in the average and below intelligence group, the younger age group performed worse than the older age group. Two-way ANOVA results indicated no interaction or main effects for age or Vocabulary score on RAVLT delay score. Other significant and marginal findings are discussed which argue for further research on the use of different norms for people aged 80-84 and 85-89, though no finding on the applicability of the IQ – memory relationship can be discussed due to selection bias.


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