Date Published: 16 April 2009
Ageing brain compensates for memory performance
When it comes to memory performance, the brain compensates with age, according to a new study.
Conducted by Swinburne University of Technology PhD student, Helen Macpherson, the study investigated age-associated brain activity while performing memory tasks with varying levels of difficulty.
It compared the results of male participants aged 59-67 with male participants aged 20-30.
The simpler tasks assessed working memory and the more difficult tasks assessed short term recognition of visual images.
All participants performed the tasks with a similar level of accuracy, but response times were slower for the older adults across all tasks.
“It is well known that as people age they experience a decline in memory performance,” Macpherson said. “The research findings showed that some changes in brain activity may reflect the brain’s effort to compensate for this decline.”
“When the older adults performed an easy task there was a reduction in brain activity compared to younger adults. When they were performing a more difficult task there was an increase in brain activity compared to the younger adults.
Therefore when the task is more difficult, there is more activity across the brain for older adults to perform the same tasks as younger adults.”
The results also revealed that older and younger adults relied on different brain regions in order to perform the same old/new recognition judgment.
“At low task demands, such as simply remembering the shape of an irregular object, older adults don’t need to recruit additional neural resources in order to successfully complete the task,” Macpherson said. “But with increased task difficulty such as recognising pictures of everyday objects and then making a contextual judgment about where these images were presented on a computer screen, more parts of the brain come into play.”