What Can Neural Activity Tell Us About Cognitive Resources in Aging?
Frontiers in Psychology
A reduction in cognitive resources has been originally proposed to account for age-related decrements in several cognitive domains. According to this view, aging limits the pool of available cognitive supplies: Compared to younger adults, elderly exhaust the resources more rapidly as task difficulty increases, hence a dramatic performance drop. Neurophysiological indexes (e.g., BOLD response and EEG activity) may be instrumental to quantify the amount of such cognitive resources in the brain
... to pinpoint the stage of stimulus processing where the decrement in age-related resources is evident. However, as we discuss in this mini-review, the most recent studies on the neurophysiological markers of age-related changes lack a consistent coupling between neural and behavioral effects, which casts doubt on the advantage of measuring neural indexes to study resource deployment in aging. For instance, in the working memory (WM) domain, recent cross-sectional studies found varying patterns of concurrent age-related brain activity, ranging from equivalent to reduced and increased activations of old with respect to younger adults. In an attempt to reconcile these seemingly inconsistent findings of brain-behavior coupling, we focus on the contribution of confounding sources of variability and propose ways to control for them. Finally, we suggest an alternative perspective to explain age-related effects that implies a qualitative (instead of or along with a quantitative) difference in the deployment of cognitive resources in aging.