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Exp Gerontol. 1998 Nov-Dec;33(7-8):661-73.

Brain imaging and age-related changes in cognition.

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Rotman Research Institute and University of Toronto, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Although there is currently some debate as to the degree of structural changes in the brain that occur with age, there is little doubt that such changes occur. There also are physiological changes in many areas that could have implications for cognitive function in the elderly. One way to study the impact of these age-related changes in the brain on cognition is to use neuroimaging techniques to examine brain activity during the performance of various tasks, and determine how this activity differs between young and older individuals. This approach has been used to study functions such as memory, perception, and attention, and it has generally been found that older individuals utilize different areas of the brain than do young subjects when carrying out the same cognitive task. This has led some researchers to suggest that older persons utilize different functional brain networks, perhaps to compensate for reductions of efficiency in some brain areas. The areas of the brain most often found to be more active during cognitive tasks in the elderly are the frontal lobes. Studies that have directly examined the functional networks utilized during cognition have found that older people do indeed have different functional interactions involving the frontal lobes, and therefore, utilize different functional networks. In some cases this differential activity has been accompanied by cognitive performance in the older participants that is equivalent to that seen in the young, suggesting that greater reliance on this brain region is related in some way to the maintained ability of the older individuals to perform the task. However, data collected to date on this issue are still limited, so although the evidence is intriguing, the definitive interpretation of these findings must await further experiments.

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