Aging lowers activity in brain's language areas; performance unaffected

g., "boat" and "ship."

Brain activity during these tasks was compared with brain activity during a baseline task, which was measured while participants matched consonant letter strings, e.g., "zqqpf" and "zqqpf." The comparison between each language task and the control task allowed the demonstration of brain regions more specifically devoted to language as opposed to low-level functions such as vision and generating a response, Gitelman explained.

Participant performance was recorded during imaging, and brain activity was assessed by measuring signals while the individual performed the tasks in a 1.5 Tesla magnetic resonance scanner. The signals, which are a measure of changes in blood oxygenation known as BOLD imaging, have been shown to correlate with brain blood flow and indirectly with brain activity.

The imaging showed that increasing age was associated with reduced brain activity, mainly in the language areas of the left front lobe but also in the left parietal cortex and high-level visual regions on both sides of the brain. The parietal cortex participates in word pronunciation and the decoding of meaning (among many other functions). The visual areas are concerned with processing written material. Increased brain activity with age was seen in an area of the brain known as the posterior cingulate cortex, which is concerned with attentional behaviors.

These findings demonstrate that aging changes language-related brain activations both within and outside the traditional language network, Gitelman said.

"The predominant decreases in front lobe activity for both tasks could reflect a greater processing efficiency for the older subjects given their equivalent performance," he said.


Contact: Elizabeth Crown
Northwestern University

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