Older adults (OA) show more diffuse brain activity than young adults (YA) during the performance of cognitive, motor, and perceptual tasks. It is unclear whether this overactivation reflects compensation or dedifferentiation. Typically, these investigations have not evaluated the organization of the resting brain, which can help to determine whether more diffuse representations reflect physiological or task-dependent effects. In the present study we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to determine whether there are differences in motor cortex organization of both brain hemispheres in young and older adults. We measured resting motor threshold, motor evoked potential (MEP) latency and amplitude, and extent of first dorsal interosseous representations, in addition to a computerized measure of reaction time. There was no significant age difference in motor threshold, but we did find that OA had larger contralateral MEP amplitudes and a longer contralateral MEP latency. Furthermore, the spatial extent of motor representations in OA was larger. We found that larger dominant hemisphere motor representations in OA were associated with higher reaction times, suggesting dedifferentiation rather than compensation effects.
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