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Loss of cognitive function is a common feature of aging. One strategy for measuring cognitive function is assessing functional connectivity – a proxy for brain network activity. Findings from a new study show demonstrate that older adults without dementia have greater functional connectivity in regions of their brains involved in executive control, language processing, and speech production compared to their younger counterparts.

The authors of the study used functional MRI to compare brain activity among 57 older adults (95 to 103 years old) and 66 younger adults (76 to 79 years old). All of the study participants were cognitively intact.

The imaging studies revealed that the older adults displayed greater brain activity in their left and right frontoparietal control networks, which improved their performance on visuospatial cognitive tasks, a critical aspect in the ability to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects. In contrast, the older adults exhibited weaker functional connectivity between their frontoparietal networks and their default mode network (DMN). The DMN is a region of the brain associated with self-focused, ruminative thought.

These findings elucidate how brain connectivity serves as a kind of reserve capacity against age-related cognitive decline and can inform future research on therapeutic strategies to slow or prevent cognitive decline.

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