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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2001 Jun;11(3):363-76.

Neurophysiological signals of working memory in normal aging.

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San Francisco Brain Research Institute and SAM Technology, 425 Bush St., Fifth Floor, 94108, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA.


To examine how neurophysiological signals of working memory (WM) change with normal aging, we recorded EEGs from healthy groups (n=10 each) of young (mean age=21 years), middle-aged (mean=47 years), and older (mean=69 years) adults. EEGs were recorded while subjects performed easy and difficult versions of a spatial WM task. Groups were matched for IQ (mean=123; WAIS-R) and practiced in task performance. Responses slowed with age, particularly in the more difficult task. Advanced age was associated with decreased amplitude and increased latency of the parietal P300 component of the event-related potential and an increase in the amplitude of a frontal P200 component. Spectral features of the EEG also differed between groups. Younger subjects displayed an increase in the frontal midline θ rhythm with increased task difficulty, a result not observed in older subjects. Age-related changes were also observed in the task-related alpha signal, the amplitude of which decreases as more neurons become involved in task-related processing. Young adults showed a decrease in alpha power with increased task difficulty over parietal regions but not over frontal regions. Middle-aged and older adults showed decreased alpha power with increased task difficulty over both frontal and parietal regions. This suggests that normal aging may be associated with changes in the fronto-parietal networks involved with spatial WM processes. Younger subjects appear to use a strategy that relies on parietal areas involved with spatial processing, whereas older subjects appear to use a strategy that relies more on frontal areas.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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