Dissociating Normal Aging from Alzheimer's Disease: A View from Cognitive Neuroscience

J Alzheimers Dis. 2017;57(2):331-352. doi: 10.3233/JAD-161099.


Both normal aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD) are associated with changes in cognition, grey and white matter volume, white matter integrity, neural activation, functional connectivity, and neurotransmission. Obviously, all of these changes are more pronounced in AD and proceed faster providing the basis for an AD diagnosis. Since these differences are quantitative, however, it was hypothesized that AD might simply reflect an accelerated aging process. The present article highlights the different neurocognitive changes associated with normal aging and AD and shows that, next to quantitative differences, there are multiple qualitative differences as well. These differences comprise different neurocognitive dissociations as different cognitive deficit profiles, different weights of grey and white matter atrophy, and different gradients of structural decline. These qualitative differences clearly indicate that AD cannot be simply described as accelerated aging process but on the contrary represents a solid entity.

Keywords: Activation; Alzheimer’s disease; aging; atrophy; cognition; connectivity; fractional anisotropy; mean diffusivity; structural integrity; volume.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / pathology
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Humans