Memory and executive function in aging and AD: multiple factors that cause decline and reserve factors that compensate

Neuron. 2004 Sep 30;44(1):195-208. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2004.09.006.


Memory decline in aging results from multiple factors that influence both executive function and the medial temporal lobe memory system. In advanced aging, frontal-striatal systems are preferentially vulnerable to white matter change, atrophy, and certain forms of neurotransmitter depletion. Frontal-striatal change may underlie mild memory difficulties in aging that are most apparent on tasks demanding high levels of attention and controlled processing. Through separate mechanisms, Alzheimer's disease preferentially affects the medial temporal lobe and cortical networks, including posterior cingulate and retrosplenial cortex early in its progression, often before clinical symptoms are recognized. Disruption of the medial temporal lobe memory system leads directly to memory impairment. Recent findings further suggest that age-associated change is not received passively. Reliance on reserve is emerging as an important factor that determines who ages gracefully and who declines rapidly. Functional imaging studies, in particular, suggest increased recruitment of brain areas in older adults that may reflect a form of compensation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*