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Neuroimage. 2006 Jul 15;31(4):1682-92. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Changing channels: an fMRI study of aging and cross-modal attention shifts.

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  • 1Research on Aging and Development, Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, MC-0959, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0959, USA.


Age-related deficits in visual selective attention suggest that the efficiency of inhibitory processes is particularly affected by aging. To investigate whether processing inefficiencies observed in visual attention are similar in auditory attention and when shifting attention across modalities, we conducted an fMRI study with healthy young and older adults using a task that required sustained auditory and visual selective attention and cross-modal attention shifts. Older adults in this study performed as well as the younger adults, but showed age-related differences in BOLD responses. The most striking of these differences were bilateral frontal and parietal regions of significantly increased activation in older adults during both focused and shifting attention. Our data suggest that this increased activation did not reflect new recruitment, but reliance on brain regions typically used by younger adults when task demands are greater. Older adults' activation patterns suggested that even during focused attention conditions they were "shifting" attention to stimuli in the unattended modality. Increased activation during processing of both task-relevant and task-irrelevant information implies age-related loss of processing selectivity. These patterns may reflect both task-specific compensatory neural recruitment and degradation of sensory inhibition.

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