Previous research has demonstrated conflicting findings concerning orthographic access in older age. The current study examines whether older adults rely more heavily on stored knowledge while spelling, through testing of word concreteness. Forty-one younger (age 20–29), 41 middle age (age 45–55), and 40 healthy older adults (age 70–80) spelled 60 concrete and 60 abstract Hebrew words from dictation. Coding distinguished between homophonic errors that involved the use of a phonologically plausible letter and non-homophonic errors that could indicate working memory difficulties. All participants spelled more concrete than abstract words correctly, the two younger age groups spelled more words correctly than did the older adults, and there was an interaction between condition and age, with a greater concreteness effect in the oldest group. Additionally, younger adults made more homophonic errors than did older adults, whereas older adults made significantly more non-homophonic errors than the other two groups. We suggest that older adults’ misspellings do not reflect impairment in activating orthographic representations, but difficulties in the execution of spelling. The study provides evidence for an aging-related decreased use of phoneme-to-grapheme conversion rules in spelling (e.g., sub-lexical route), alongside increased reliance on stored orthographic knowledge (e.g., lexical route).
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