This program announcement expires on February 1, 2004 unless reissued.


Release Date:  October 25, 2000

PA NUMBER:  PA-01-002

National Institute on Aging
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development



The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Child 
Health and Human Development (NICHD) invite qualified researchers to submit 
grant applications for research projects designed to examine age-related 
changes in reading and language comprehension abilities and to develop 
interventions that prevent or compensate for declines.  Late adulthood is 
associated with changes, generally declining, in the communicative abilities 
important for reading and language comprehension. Evidence suggests that 
factors associated with the development of reading and oral language 
comprehension skills (e.g., the age of acquisition, the proficiency attained 
in early life, diagnoses of learning disabilities and subsequent 
interventions) and ongoing experiences (e.g., education, occupation, leisure 
activities, social interaction) influence the skill levels attained during 
adulthood. Declines in comprehension abilities can interfere with competence 
on instrumental activities such as 1) taking medications and managing 
finances; 2) receiving accurate and appropriate medical, financial, and other 
types of complex information; 3) healthy social interactions, and 4) the 
establishment and maintenance of professional competence. 


The Public Health Service (PHS) is committed to achieving the health 
promotion and disease prevention objectives of "Healthy People 2010," a PHS 
led national activity for setting priority areas. This Program Announcement 
(PA), Title of PA, is related to one or more of the priority areas. Potential 
applicants may obtain a copy of "Healthy People 2010" at


Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign for-profit and non-
profit organizations, public and private, such as universities, colleges, 
hospitals, laboratories, units of state and local governments, and eligible 
agencies of the Federal government. Racial/ethnic minority individuals, 
women, and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply as principal 


The mechanisms of support will be the investigator-initiated research project 
grant (R01) and program project grant (P01).  Applicants may consult with 
program staff listed under INQUIRIES regarding other mechanisms and relevant 
announcements on topics related to this program announcement.  Responsibility 
for the planning, direction, and execution of the proposed project will be 
solely that of the applicant.

For all competing individual research project grant (R01) applications 
requesting up to $250,000 direct costs per year, specific application 
instructions have been modified to reflect "MODULAR GRANT" and "JUST-IN-TIME" 
streamlining efforts being examined by NIH. Complete and detailed 
instructions and information on Modular Grant applications can be found at: Applications that 
request more than $250,000 in any year must use the standard PHS 398 (rev. 
4/98) application instructions.



For the elderly, as well as for adolescents and adults, accurate and 
efficient comprehension of both written and oral language is essential for 
success across a wide spectrum of important behaviors, including social 
participation, performing instrumental activities of daily living, and 
engaging in occupational endeavors, in addition to general psychological 
well-being and survival. Satisfactory acquisition and maintenance of both 
written and oral language comprehension skills are dependent upon a complex 
interaction among sensory, perceptual, and cognitive processes. Moreover, 
these skills develop and change throughout the lifespan, and thus can be 
compromised, especially in later life, by reductions in the performance of 
any or all of the component processes.  

However, as with many age-related changes, there is inter-individual 
variability in the decline of the various cognitive functions, in how 
individuals regulate decline, and in patterns of maintenance and growth.  
Known age-related changes include reductions in cognitive resources, such as 
working memory capacity and speed of processing, and declines in hearing, 
visual acuity, and/or the ability to process sensory information.  Most 
adults experience decline in one or more of these abilities and skills as 
part of the aging process; however, many employ compensatory strategies for 
these declines, some continue to experience growth in relevant domains such 
as vocabulary, and many preserve some skills and abilities.  Moreover, many 
individuals demonstrate resilience in the ability to comprehend speech and 
text.  A key question that needs to be addressed is:   What do patterns and 
processes of decline, maintenance, compensation, and growth reveal about how 
to improve language comprehension in older adults?  

The role played by differences in cognitive function between younger and 
older adults in comprehending written and spoken language is poorly 
understood.  It is understood, however, that even when older adults have 
maintained hearing and visual acuity, they may not perform as well as younger 
adults on many tests of comprehension.  An increased understanding of the 
basic processes of comprehension will have far-reaching implications for the 
lives of older adults and for an aging society.  Research applications are 
sought that will increase our knowledge of comprehension of speech and text, 
of relevant social and conversational factors, and of the development of 
interventions that will facilitate comprehension across the lifespan but with 
special focus on older adults. 

It is not yet known how vocabulary development, syntactic development and the 
acquisition and application of metacognitive strategies influence the 
development and loss of listening and reading comprehension skills across the 
lifespan.  Research applications are sought that examine the long-term 
effects of factors associated with the acquisition of reading and language 
comprehension on skill development and maintenance during adulthood and on 
the rate and quality of changes during late life.  Applications are sought 
that examine the developmental course of language comprehension using 
epidemiologic, demographic, longitudinal, qualitative, neurobiological, and/ 
or experimental research methods.  Secondary data analyses of existing 
longitudinal studies as well as supplements and extensions to longitudinal 
studies and educational research databases are encouraged.  

Evidence suggests that factors associated with the development of reading and 
oral language comprehension skills (e.g., the age of acquisition, the 
proficiency attained in early life, diagnoses of learning disabilities and 
subsequent interventions) and ongoing experiences (e.g., education, 
occupation, leisure activities, social interaction) influence the skill 
levels attained during adulthood.  Reading and language research using 
neuroimaging techniques suggests that although there are basic processes 
necessary for language fluency, there is variation among individuals and 
between languages.  For example, the cortical areas involved in phonology 
vary across individuals, and recent studies have revealed language-specific 
differences.  Research is needed that examines the developmental trajectories 
of skill development, maintenance, and decline associated with the 
developmental factors and the various neural pathways of language 

Human factors research has elucidated the importance of structure and context 
to older adults’ comprehension of speech and text.  Research in this area 
needs to be continued and the findings need to be applied toward the 
development of strategies that compensate for decline.  Little is known about 
how changes in cognitive processes affect speech and reading comprehension.  
Individuals with learning disabilities develop compensatory processes which 
may be similar to those developed by older adults as they struggle to combat 
the effects of such declines: although some compensatory strategies augment 
or facilitate the reading process, others may hinder it and affect the 
success of certain instructional strategies for adults.  Which specific 
strategies work well, in what situations, and whether there are interventions 
or instructional approaches involving these strategies that might foster the 
maintenance of comprehension skills in later life should be investigated.  
Increased understanding of the roles of processes and strategies that 
compensate for disabilities and decline and their potential for adaptation in 
late life is promising for the development of compensatory and intervention 

Moreover, little is known about the demographics and epidemiology of age-
related decline in speech and reading comprehension.  Increased knowledge in 
these areas is important to understanding the greater contexts associated 
with decline and to targeting populations for intervention and research.  
Finally, the effects of later literacy development and how these interact 
with age-related declines in language and reading development needs to be 


NIH seeks research grant applications aimed at the study of selected aspects 
of speech and reading comprehension as they change with age.  General areas 
of interest include the following: 1) the factors and individual differences 
related to comprehending written and spoken language as well as the 
demography and epidemiology of age-related changes; 2) the human factors, 
biological factors, developmental factors, environmental factors, and the 
social conditions that interfere with or enhance comprehension, and research 
applications aimed at applying research findings; 3) the development of 
reading comprehension strategies, compensatory  strategies, and the most 
effective approaches to the development and maintenance of literacy in 
adulthood; and 4) research applications aimed at specific domains including 
comprehending specific types of information (e.g., medical, legal, insurance) 
and maintaining professional competence. 

The large variation in comprehension skills among older adults necessitates a 
search for complex explanatory factors for late-life changes and individual 
differences in comprehension: biological changes, cognitive processes and 
strategies, personal differences in life experiences (e.g., education, level 
of expertise) or cognitive styles, and the social, linguistic, and cultural 
differences in expectations and opportunities for performance.  Moreover, 
comprehension often requires social interaction, such as engaging in 
conversation, asking clarifying questions, and seeking more information.  
Thus, research is also needed that examines social factors and speech 
production patterns that interfere with or ameliorate comprehension.  The 
following topics offer examples of studies that are encouraged. These 
examples are neither comprehensive nor exclusive. 

o  The demographic factors and life experiences associated with age-related 
changes in comprehension (including skill acquisition and development, 
decline, maintenance, compensation, and improvement) as well as understanding 
the epidemiology of age-related decline in comprehension. 

o  The relationship of relevant aspects of cognitive processing including 
attention, memory components, and measures of  intellectual abilities to 
speech and reading comprehension.  Further understanding is needed of the 
effects of age-related changes in temporal processing on language 
comprehension, the effects of changes in spatial abilities on reading 
comprehension, and the effects of the various age-related aphasias on 
language comprehension. 

o  The neurobiological mechanisms of age-related change in cognitive or 
sensory function that impact oral and written language comprehension. 

o  The developmental trajectories of skill development, maintenance, and 
decline associated with individual skill acquisition factors and with various 
neural pathways of language comprehension.

o  Cognitive strategies that may be employed to compensate for losses.  
Examples include the use of cognitive abilities and expertise to interpret 
incomplete or confused auditory and visual signals, strategies to identify 
and locate the sources of sounds, and strategies specific to being multi-

o  The identification of cognitive strategies that may interfere with the 
development of reading abilities in adults with low literacy, and the 
development of effective interventions. 

o  Identification of the underlying language comprehension skills and 
component skills necessary to the reading process that may underlie 
functional illiteracy or low literacy in adults, and the development of 
effective interventions.  For example, what is the role of the greater 
background knowledge and broader vocabulary of adults in the process of 
developing new areas of language proficiency in adulthood?

o  How affect, motivation, and self-perception of abilities are interrelated 
with sensory or cognitive processes.

o  Changes in encoding and sending non-verbal cues, as well as changes in 
decoding and processing non-verbal cues.  

o  How individual factors interact with the functional demands of the 
material presented.   

o  The social skills necessary for obtaining accurate and relevant 
information.  These may include the initiative of conversational interaction 
for various purposes, such as seeking information or asking for 

o  The effects of attitudes and beliefs about aging on comprehension.  These 
include those of the older adult (e.g., self stereotypes), others 
communicating with the older adults, as well as the cultural context. 

o  The influence of self-perceived handicap, and of social or occupational 
demands, on the willingness to use devices designed to assist performance.   
Other factors include the attitudes, beliefs, and the behavior of older 
adults, their friends and family, and others with whom older adults interact.

Research is needed on how the characteristics of the text, the speaking 
voice, the medium of the message, the context of the presentation, and 
sensory capacity influence ease of comprehension.  Studies are encouraged 
that examine relevant human factors and that apply current knowledge toward 
improving comprehension.  Among the many topics that need further research 
are the following:

o  The differences in processing requirements for expository, narrative, and 
procedural texts, written and spoken questions, conversational engagement, 
and comprehension of other forms of speech.

o  The role of neurobiological auditory and visual changes with age in 
influencing both language and reading comprehension.

o  The differences in comprehension due to content of the information, 
complexity of syntax, structure and cues in the text, and style of 
presentation of the information.

o  Factors specific to reading computer screens and monitors, understanding 
graphics and text embedded in design, such as might occur on bottles and 
other containers.     

o  The types and number of environmental distractions, the effects of 
lighting, the size and font of print, and the color of paper and print.

o  The effects of cadence, placement of pauses, volume, pitch, and speed of 
presentation on comprehension of language. 

o  Facilitating older adults' comprehension through the development and 
application of  compensatory strategies and design (e.g., cognitive 
strategies, human factors design, social support, and environmental design).    

Research is needed that examines the comprehension of written and spoken 
language as it relates to various domains, particularly the comprehension of 
medical information and other complex topics such as long-term care policies 
and insurance information.  Research is also needed on the age differences in 
the ability to comprehend written and verbal survey questions. Other domains 
include the role of language comprehension in establishing and maintaining 
professional competence. Some examples of relevant topics that need further 
research are the following:  

o  The factors important to the comprehension of information important in 
decision-making (e.g., probabilities, possible outcomes, and risks and 

o  How the attitudes and beliefs of the service provider regarding older 
adults’ hearing and speech comprehension impact actual comprehension (e.g., 

o  The factors important for accurate exchange of information, including 
conversational style and openness to questions.

o  The development of questionnaire, survey, and interview practices that 
obtain increased accuracy in information from older adults via increased 
speech and reading comprehension.  For a related PA, see Methodology and 
Measurement in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, 
o  How the workplace and the aging worker are affected by changes in language 
comprehension. What workplace changes are needed for the maintenance and 
improvement of older workers' professional competence and productivity?  How 
can the workplace facilitate the implementation of older adults' compensatory 


It is the policy of the NIH that women and members of minority groups and 
their sub-populations must be included in all NIH-supported biomedical and 
behavioral research projects involving human subjects, unless a clear and 
compelling rationale and justification are provided indicating that inclusion 
is inappropriate with respect to the health of the subjects or the purpose of 
the research.  This policy results from the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 
(Section 492B of Public Law 103-43). 

All investigators proposing research involving human subjects should read the 
UPDATED "NIH Guidelines for Inclusion of Women and Minorities as Subjects in 
Clinical Research," published in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts on 
August 2, 2000 
a complete copy of the updated Guidelines are available at  The 
revisions relate to NIH defined Phase III clinical trials and require: a) all 
applications or proposals and/or protocols to provide a description of plans 
to conduct analyses, as appropriate, to address differences by sex/gender 
and/or racial/ethnic groups, including subgroups if applicable; and b) all 
investigators to report accrual, and to conduct and report analyses, as 
appropriate, by sex/gender and/or racial/ethnic group differences. 


It is the policy of NIH that children (i.e., individuals under the age of 21) 
must be included in all human subjects research, conducted or supported by 
the NIH, unless there are scientific and ethical reasons not to include them.  
This policy applies to all initial (Type 1) applications submitted for 
receipt dates after October 1, 1998.

All investigators proposing research involving human subjects should read the 
"NIH Policy and Guidelines on the Inclusion of Children as Participants in 
Research Involving Human Subjects” that was published in the NIH Guide for 
Grants and Contracts, March 6, 1998, and is available at:

Investigators also may obtain copies of these policies from the program staff 
listed under INQUIRIES.  Program staff may also provide additional relevant 
information concerning the policy.


All applications and proposals for NIH funding must be self-contained within 
specified page limitations.  Unless otherwise specified in an NIH 
solicitation, internet addresses (URLs) should not be used to provide 
information necessary to the review because reviewers are under no obligation 
to view the Internet sites.  Reviewers are cautioned that their anonymity may 
be compromised when they directly access an Internet site.


Applications are to be submitted on grant application form PHS 398 (rev. 
4/98) and will be accepted at the standard application deadlines as indicated 
in the application kit. Application kits are available at most institutional 
offices of sponsored research and may be obtained from the Division of 
Extramural Outreach and Information Resources, National Institutes of Health, 
6701 Rockledge Drive, MSC 7910, Bethesda, MD 20892-7910, Phone (301) 710-0267, Email:  GRANTSINFO@NIH.GOV. Applications are also available on the 
internet at

Applicants planning to submit an investigator-initiated new (type 1), 
competing continuation (type 2), competing supplement, or any amended/revised 
version of the preceding grant application types requesting $500,000 or more 
in direct costs for any  year are advised that they must contact the 
Institute or Center (IC) program staff before submitting the application, 
i.e., as plans for the study are being developed. Furthermore, applicants 
must obtain agreement from the IC staff that the IC will accept the 
application for consideration for award. Finally, applicants must identify, 
in a cover letter sent with the application, the staff member and Institute 
or Center who agreed to accept assignment of the application.

This policy requires applicants to obtain agreement for acceptance of both 
any such application and any such subsequent amendment. Refer to the NIH 
Guide for Grants and Contracts, March 20, 1998 at:

Submit a signed, typewritten, original of the application, including the 
checklist and five signed photocopies in one package to:

BETHESDA, MD 20892-7710
BETHESDA, MD 20817 (for express/courier service)

The title and number of the program announcement must be typed on line 2 of 
the face page of the application form and the YES box must be marked.


The modular grant concept establishes specific modules in which direct costs 
may be requested as well as a maximum level for requested budgets. Only 
limited budgetary information is required under this approach. The just-in-
time concept allows applicants to submit certain information only when there 
is a possibility for an award. It is anticipated that these changes will 
reduce the administrative burden for the applicants, reviewers and Institute 
staff. The research grant application form PHS 398 (rev. 4/98) is to be used 
in applying for these grants, with the modifications noted below.


Modular Grant applications will request direct costs in $25,000 modules, up 
to a total direct cost request of $250,000 per year. (Applications that 
request more than $250,000 direct costs in any year must follow the 
traditional PHS398 application instructions.) The total direct costs must be 
requested in accordance with the program guidelines and the modifications 
made to the standard PHS 398 application instructions described below:

PHS 398

o  FACE PAGE:  Items 7a and 7b should be completed, indicating Direct Costs 
(in $25,000 increments up to a maximum of $250,000) and Total Costs [Modular 
Total Direct plus Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs] for the initial 
budget period.  Items 8a and 8b should be completed indicating the Direct and 
Total Costs for the entire proposed period of support.

4 of the PHS 398.  It is not required and will not be accepted with the 

categorical budget table on Form Page 5 of the PHS 398.  It is not required 
and will not be accepted with the application.

o  NARRATIVE BUDGET JUSTIFICATION - Prepare a Modular Grant Budget Narrative 
page. (See for 
sample pages.)  At the top of the page, enter the total direct costs 
requested for each year. This is not a Form page.

o  Under Personnel, list all project personnel, including their names, 
percent of effort, and roles on the project. No individual salary information 
should be provided. However, the applicant should use the NIH appropriation 
language salary cap and the NIH policy for graduate student compensation in 
developing the budget request.

For Consortium/Contractual costs, provide an estimate of total costs (direct 
plus facilities and administrative) for each year, each rounded to the 
nearest $1,000.  List the individuals/ organizations with whom consortium or 
contractual arrangements have been made, the percent effort of key personnel, 
and the role on the project. Indicate whether the collaborating institution 
is foreign or domestic. The total cost for a consortium/contractual 
arrangement is included in the overall requested modular direct cost amount. 
Include the Letter of Intent to establish a consortium.

Provide an additional narrative budget justification for any variation in the 
number of modules requested.

o  BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH - The Biographical Sketch provides information used by 
reviewers in the assessment of each individual's qualifications for a 
specific role in the proposed project, as well as to evaluate the overall 
qualifications of the research team.  A biographical sketch is required for 
all key personnel, following the instructions below.  No more than three 
pages may be used for each person.  A sample biographical sketch may be 
viewed at:

- Complete the educational block at the top of the form page;
- List position(s) and any honors;
- Provide information, including overall goals and responsibilities, on 
research projects ongoing or completed during the last three years;
- List selected peer-reviewed publications, with full citations.

o  CHECKLIST - This page should be completed and submitted with the 
application.  If the F&A rate agreement has been established, indicate the 
type of agreement and the date. All appropriate exclusions must be applied in 
the calculation of the F&A costs for the initial budget period and all future 
budget years.

o  The applicant should provide the name and phone number of the individual 
to contact concerning fiscal and administrative issues if additional 
information is necessary following the initial review.


Applications will be assigned on the basis of established Public Health 
Service referral guidelines.  Applications that are complete will be 
evaluated for scientific and technical merit by an appropriate peer review 
group convened in accordance with NIH peer review procedures. As part of the 
initial merit review, all applications will receive a written critique and 
undergo a process in which only those applications deemed to have the highest 
scientific merit, generally the top half of applications under review, will 
be discussed, assigned a priority score, and receive a second level review by 
the appropriate national advisory council or board.

Review Criteria

The goals of NIH-supported research are to advance our understanding of 
biological systems, improve the control of disease, and enhance health. In 
the written comments reviewers will be asked to discuss the following aspects 
of the application in order to judge the likelihood that the proposed 
research will have a substantial impact on the pursuit of these goals. Each 
of these criteria will be addressed and considered in assigning the overall 
score, weighting them as appropriate for each application. Note that the 
application does not need to be strong in all categories to be judged likely 
to have major scientific impact and thus deserve a high priority score. For 
example, an investigator may propose to carry out important work that by its 
nature is not innovative but is essential to move a field forward.

1.  Significance:  Does this study address an important problem?  If the aims 
of the application are achieved, how will scientific knowledge be advanced?  
What will be the effect of these studies on the concepts or methods that 
drive this field?

2.  Approach:  Are the conceptual framework, design, methods, and analyses 
adequately developed, well-integrated, and appropriate to the aims of the 
project?  Does the applicant acknowledge potential problem areas and consider 
alternative tactics?

3.  Innovation:  Does the project employ novel concepts, approaches or 
method? Are the aims original and innovative?  Does the project challenge 
existing paradigms or develop new methodologies or technologies?

4.  Investigator:  Is the investigator appropriately trained and well suited 
to carry out this work?  Is the work proposed appropriate to the experience 
level of the principal investigator and other researchers (if any)?

5.  Environment:  Does the scientific environment in which the work will be 
done contribute to the probability of success?  Do the proposed experiments 
take advantage of unique features of the scientific environment or employ 
useful collaborative arrangements? Is there evidence of institutional 

In addition to the above criteria, in accordance with NIH policy, all 
applications will also be reviewed with respect to the following:

o  The adequacy of plans to include both genders, minorities, and their 
subgroups, and children as appropriate for the scientific goals of the 
research.  Plans for the recruitment and retention of subjects will also be 

o  The reasonableness of the proposed budget and duration in relation to the 
proposed research.

o  The adequacy of the proposed protection for humans, animals or the 
environment, to the extent they may be adversely affected by the project 
proposed in the application.


Applications will compete for available funds with all other recommended 
applications.  The following will be considered in making funding decisions:

o  Quality of the proposed project as determined by peer review
o  Availability of funds
o  Program priority.


Inquiries are encouraged. The opportunity to clarify any issues or questions 
from potential applicants is welcome.  

Direct inquiries regarding programmatic issues to:

Daniel B. Berch, Ph.D.
Behavioral and Social Research Program
National Institute on Aging
7201 Wisconsin Avenue Suite 533 MSC 9205
Bethesda, MD  20892 -9205
Telephone:  (301) 496-3137
FAX:  (301) 402-0051
E-mail:  db254g@NIH.GOV

Judith A. Finkelstein, Ph.D.
Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program
National Institute on Aging
7201 Wisconsin Avenue
Gateway Building, Suite 3C307 
Bethesda, MD  20892-9205
Telephone:  (301) 496-9350
FAX:  (301) 496-1494

Peggy McCardle, Ph.D., MPH
Child Development and Behavior Branch
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 
6100 Executive Blvd., Suite 4B05
Rockville, MD 20895-7510
Telephone: 301-435-6863
FAX: 301-480-7773

Direct inquiries regarding fiscal matters to:

Linda Whipp
Grants and Contracts Management Office
National Institute on Aging
7201 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 2N212, MSC 9205
Bethesda, MD  20892-9205
Telephone:  (301) 496-1472
FAX:  (301) 402-3672
Email:  lw17m@NIH.GOV

Douglas Shawver
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 
6100 Executive Blvd., Suite 4B05
Rockville, MD 20895
Telephone: 301-435-6999
FAX: 301-402-0915


This program is described in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance No. 
93.866 and No. 93.865.  Awards are made under authorization of sections 301 
and 405 of the Public Health Service Act as amended (42 USC 241 and 284) and 
administered under NIH grants policies and Federal Regulations 42 CFR 52 and 
45 CFR Parts 74 and 92. This program is not subject to the intergovernmental 
review requirements of Executive Order 12372 or Health Systems Agency review.
The PHS strongly encourages all grant and contract recipients to provide a 
smoke-free workplace and promote the non-use of all tobacco products.  In 
addition, Public Law 103-227, the Pro-Children Act of 1994, prohibits smoking 
in certain facilities (or in some cases, any portion of a facility) in which 
regular or routine education, library, day care, health care or early 
childhood development services are provided to children.  This is consistent 
with the PHS mission to protect and advance the physical and mental health of 
the American people. 

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