Older adults benefit from more widespread brain network integration during working memory.

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Neuroimaging evidence suggests that the aging brain relies on a more distributed set of cortical regions than younger adults in order to maintain successful levels of performance during demanding cognitive tasks. However, it remains unclear how task demands give rise to this age-related expansion in cortical networks. To investigate this issue, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure univariate activity, network connectivity, and cognitive performance in younger and older adults during a working memory (WM) task. Here, individuals performed a WM task in which they held letters online while reordering them alphabetically. WM load was titrated to obtain four individualized difficulty levels with different set sizes. Network integration-defined as the ratio of within- versus between-network connectivity-was linked to individual differences in WM capacity. The study yielded three main findings. First, as task difficulty increased, network integration decreased in younger adults, whereas it increased in older adults. Second, age-related increases in network integration were driven by increases in right hemisphere connectivity to both left and right cortical regions, a finding that helps to reconcile existing theories of compensatory recruitment in aging. Lastly, older adults with higher WM capacity demonstrated higher levels of network integration in the most difficult task condition. These results shed light on the mechanisms of age-related network reorganization by demonstrating that changes in network connectivity may act as an adaptive form of compensation, with older adults recruiting a more distributed cortical network as task demands increase.






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Crowell, CA, SW Davis, L Beynel, L Deng, D Lakhlani, SA Hilbig, H Palmer, A Brito, et al. (2020). Older adults benefit from more widespread brain network integration during working memory. NeuroImage. p. 116959. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116959 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/20717.

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Simon Wilton Davis

Associate Professor in Neurology

My research centers around the use of structural and functional imaging measures to study the shifts in network architecture in the aging brain. I am specifically interested in changes in how changes in structural and functional connectivity associated with aging impact the semantic retrieval of word or fact knowledge. Currently this involves asking why older adults have particular difficulty in certain kinds of semantic retrieval, despite the fact that vocabularies and knowledge stores typically improve with age.

A second line of research involves asking questions about how this semantic system is organized in young adults, understanding which helps form a basis for asking questions about older adults. To what degree are these semantic retrieval processes lateralized? What cognitive factors affect this laterality? How are brain structures like the corpus callosum involved in mediating distributed activation patterns associated with semantic retrieval? 

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