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Objectives. To assess the impact of hypertension and diabetes mellitus on sentence comprehension in older adults.

Method. Two hundred and ninety-five adults aged 55 to 84 (52% men) participated in this study. Self-report mail survey combined with medical evaluations were used to determine eligibility. Multiple sources were used to determine whether hypertension and diabetes were present or absent and controlled or uncontrolled. Sentence comprehension was evaluated with two tasks: embedded sentences (ES) and sentences with multiple negatives (MN). Outcome measures were percent accuracy and mean reaction time of correct responses on each task.

Results. Regression models adjusted for age, gender, and education showed that the presence of hypertension impaired comprehension on the multiple negatives task (p < .01), whereas the presence of diabetes impaired the comprehension of embedded sentences (p < .05). Uncontrolled diabetes significantly impaired accurate comprehension of sentences with multiple negatives (p < .05). No significant patterns were found for reaction time.

Discussion. The presence of hypertension and diabetes adversely affected sentence comprehension, but the relative contribution of each was different. These findings support the researchers’ earlier speculations on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the effects of hypertension and diabetes on language and cognition in aging. Uncontrolled disease status demonstrated more complicated age-related effects on sentence processing, highlighting the clinical importance for cognitive aging of identifying and managing vascular risk factors.

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