Growing evidence from the neuroscience of aging suggests that executive function plays a pivotal role in maintaining semantic processing performance. However, the presumed age-related activation changes that sustain executive semantic processing remain poorly understood. The aim of this study was to explore the executive aspects of semantic processing during a word-matching task with regard to age-related neuro-functional reorganization, as well as to identify factors that influence executive control profiles. Twenty younger and 20 older participants underwent fMRI scanning. The experimental task was based on word-matching, wherein visual feedback was used to instruct participants to either maintain or switch a semantic-matching rule. Response time and correct responses were assessed for each group. A battery of cognitive tests was administrated to all participants and the older group was divided into two subgroups based on their cognitive control profiles. Even though the percentage of correct responses was equivalent in the task performance between both groups and within the older groups, neuro-functional activation differed in frontoparietal regions with regards to age and cognitive control profiles. A correlation between behavioral measures (correct responses and response times) and brain signal changes was found in the left inferior parietal region in older participants. Results indicate that the shift in age-related activation from frontal to parietal regions can be viewed as another form of neuro-functional reorganization. The greater reliance on inferior parietal regions in the older compared to the younger group suggests that the executive control system is still efficient and sustains semantic processing in the healthy aging brain. Additionally, cognitive control profiles underlie executive ability differences in healthy aging appear to be associated with specific neuro-functional reorganization throughout frontal and parietal regions. These findings demonstrate that changes in neural support for executive semantic processing during a word-matching task are not only influenced by age, but also by cognitive control profile.
Keywords: cognitive control profile; executive processes; fMRI; healthy aging; neuro-functional reorganization; word-matching task.