Age-Related Changes in Brain Activity
We have just reviewed the literature addressing structural and neurochemical changes in the brain as we grow older and how deteriorative structural changes relate to decreases in cognitive functioning. We now explore other brain – related factors that might explain age differences in cognitive functioning: age-related changes in brain activity. Functional imaging (e. g., fMRI) examines how changes in brain activity occur in correspondence to changes in task demands and the type of cognitive functioning under investigation. In other words, we are interested in examining the functional consequences of age-related deterioration in specific brain structures. A second aim of these types of studies is to identify patterns of how the brain recruits different regions for activation in older adults that may occur in service of compensation when tasks pose a distinct difficulty. In other words, do older adults in comparison to younger adults recruit different regions of the brain in order to perform cognitive tasks more effectively? This could reveal, on the one hand, neurological underpinnings of the cognitive decline observed in older adults. On the other hand, perhaps these changes reflect adaptive accommodations that the brain makes in order to assist older adults to adjust to the neurological impairment that occurs with increasing age. This would allow them to function adaptively in everyday life.