A common complaint among older people is their increasing difficulty in finding common words and proper names with which they are familiar in everyday speaking and writing (e.g., Zelinski, cited in Burke & Light, 1981). At the same time, vocabulary scores indicate that knowledge of word meanings is well maintained with increasing age (Botwinick, 1977; Kramer & Jarvik, 1979). Tulving and Thomson (1973) distinguished between semantic memory (i.e., the store of knowledge about words and concepts, their properties and interrelations) and episodic memory (i.e., the store of knowledge about personally experienced events). Standard laboratory tests have suggested that semantic memory is retained well into old age (Eysenck, 1975; Smith & Fullerton, 1981), in contrast to episodic memory, which shows impairment with age (Craik & Simon, 1980; Perlmutter, 1979). Bowles and Poon (1985a) suggested that the laboratory tasks that have been used to measure semantic-memory functioning are not sensitive to the deficits of which older people complain.
Word retrieval is of special interest in this context because it has been studied in the naturalistic setting (Cohen & Faulkner, 1986; Reason & Lucas, 1983), in the clinical setting (Goodglass, 1980; Nicholas, Obler, Albert, & Goodglass, 1985), and in the laboratory setting (Bowles & Poon, 1985a, 1985b; Brown, 1979). In this chapter it is argued that the research goals differ in these settings, and each makes its own contribution to our understanding of behavior.