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Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Mar;32(3):515-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2009.02.022. Epub 2009 Apr 1.

Memory activation in healthy nonagenarians.

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Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, One Gustave Levy Place, Box 1230, New York, NY 10029, USA.


Little is known about brain function in the oldest old, although this is the fastest growing segment of the population in developed countries and is of paramount importance in public health considerations. In this study, we investigated the cerebral response to a memory task in healthy subjects over age 90 compared with healthy younger elderly. We studied 29 healthy elderly subjects, 12 over age 90 and 17 between age 70 and 80. All subjects were cognitively intact, as verified by a neuropsychological battery, and performed a nonverbal memory task while undergoing a functional MRI (fMRI). Activation results were analyzed by a random-effects ANCOVA using SPM5. The task resulted in activation of similar areas of the posterior temporal, parietal, and posterior frontal cortexes, but the activation was more robust in the younger subjects, especially in the right hippocampus, and parietal and temporal cortices. This finding remained after controlling for education, cognition, task performance or cerebral atrophy. The phenomenon of relatively maintained performance, despite significant brain atrophy and lower activation is consistent with the cognitive reserve theory and may be specific to subjects with extremely successful aging. Further investigation of brain activation patterns in the oldest old is warranted.

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