While impairments in memory recall are apparent in aging, older adults show a remarkably preserved ability to selectively remember information deemed valuable. Here, we use fMRI to compare brain activation in healthy older and younger adults during encoding of high and low value words to determine whether there are differences in how older adults achieve value-directed memory selectivity. We find that memory selectivity in older adults is associated with value-related changes in activation during word presentation in left hemisphere regions that are involved in semantic processing, similar to young adults. However, highly selective young adults show a relatively greater increase in semantic network activity during encoding of high-value items, whereas highly selective older adults show relatively diminished activity during encoding of low-value items. Additionally, only younger adults showed value-related increases in activity in semantic and reward processing regions during presentation of the value cue preceding each to-be-remembered word. Young adults therefore respond to cue value more proactively than do older adults, yet the magnitude of value-related differences in cue period brain activity did not predict individual differences in memory selectivity. Thus, our data also show that age-related reductions in prestimulus activity do not always lead to inefficient performance.
Keywords: Aging; Learning; Metacognitive control; Prefrontal cortex; fMRI.
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