With time on our side? Task-dependent compensatory processes in graceful aging

Exp Brain Res. 2010 Sep;205(3):307-24. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2363-7. Epub 2010 Aug 3.


Graceful aging has been associated with frontal hyperactivations in working- and episodic long-term memory tasks, a compensatory process, according to some, that allows the best normal elders to perform these tasks at a juvenile level, in spite of natural cortical impoverishment. In this study, 24 young and 24 healthy elderly participants were compared. Graceful aging was explored by investigating domains where most healthy elders perform like youngers (e.g. lexical-semantic knowledge) and tasks that are typically more challenging, like episodic long-term recognition memory tasks. With voxel-based morphometry, we also studied to what extent changes of fMRI activation were consistent with the pattern of brain atrophy. We found that hyperactivations and hypoactivations of the elders were not restricted to the frontal lobes, rather they presented with task-dependent patterns. Only hypoactivations and normal levels of activation systematically overlapped with regional atrophy. We conclude that compensatory processes associated with graceful aging may not necessarily be a sign of early saturation of executive resources, if this was to be represented by a systematic frontal hyperactivation, but rather they may represent the ability of recruiting new cognitive strategies. We discuss two possible approaches to further test this hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / growth & development
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Prefrontal Cortex / growth & development
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology


  • Oxygen