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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(6):864-71. Epub 2006 Aug 10.

Cognitive and neural plasticity in aging: general and task-specific limitations.

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Aging Research Center, Division of Geriatric Epidemiology, Neurotec, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


There is evidence for cognitive as well as neural plasticity across the adult life span, although aging is associated with certain constraints on plasticity. In the current paper, we argue that the age-related reduction in cognitive plasticity may be due to (a) deficits in general processing resources, and (b) failure to engage in task-relevant cognitive operations. Memory-training research suggests that age-related processing deficits (e.g., executive functions, speed) hinder older adults from utilizing mnemonic techniques as efficiently as the young, and that this age difference is reflected by diminished frontal activity during mnemonic use. Additional constraints on memory plasticity in old age are related to difficulties that are specific to the task, such as creating visual images, as well as in binding together the information to be remembered. These deficiencies are paralleled by reduced activity in occipito-parietal and medial-temporal regions, respectively. Future attempts to optimize intervention-related gains in old age should consider targeting both general processing and task-specific origins of age-associated reductions in cognitive plasticity.

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