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Abstract

Normal aging brings increased richness in knowledge and experience as well as declines in cognitive abilities. Event-related brain potential (ERP) studies of language comprehension corroborate findings showing that the structure and organization of semantic knowledge remains relatively stable with age. Highlighting the advantages of the temporal and functional specificity of ERPs, this survey focuses on age-related changes in higher-level processes required for the successful comprehension of meaning representations built from multiple words. Older adults rely on different neural pathways and cognitive processes during normal, everyday comprehension, including a shift away from the predictive use of sentential context, differential recruitment of neural resources, and reduced engagement of controlled processing. Within age groups, however, there are important individual differences that, for example, differentiate a subset of older adults whose processing patterns more closely resemble that of young adults, providing a window into cognitive skills and abilities that may mediate or moderate age-related declines.