Partner-specific communication deficits in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease

Eun Jin Paek, Si On Yoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Speakers adjust referential expressions to the listeners’ knowledge while communicating, a phenomenon called “audience design.” While individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) show difficulties in discourse production, it is unclear whether they exhibit preserved partner-specific audience design. The current study examined if individuals with AD demonstrate partner-specific audience design skills. Method: Ten adults with mild-to-moderate AD and 12 healthy older adults performed a referential communication task with two experimenters (E1 and E2). At first, E1 and participants completed an image-sorting task, allowing them to establish shared labels. Then, during testing, both experimenters were present in the room, and participants described images to either E1 or E2 (randomly alternating). Analyses focused on the number of words participants used to describe each image and whether they reused shared labels. Results: During testing, participants in both groups produced shorter descriptions when describing familiar images versus new images, demonstrating their ability to learn novel knowledge. When they described familiar images, healthy older adults modified their expressions depending on the current partner’s knowledge, producing shorter expressions and more established labels for the knowledgeable partner (E1) versus the naïve partner (E2), but individuals with AD were less likely to do so. Conclusions: The current study revealed that both individuals with AD and the control participants were able to acquire novel knowledge, but individuals with AD tended not to flexibly adjust expressions depending on the partner’s knowledge state. Conversational inefficiency and difficulties observed in AD may, in part, stem from disrupted audience design skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-390
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican journal of speech-language pathology
Issue number1s
StatePublished - Feb 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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