Brain Changes Following Executive Control Training in Older Adults

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. Oct-Nov 2017;31(10-11):910-922. doi: 10.1177/1545968317728580. Epub 2017 Sep 4.


Background: While older adults are able to attend to goal-relevant information, the capacity to ignore irrelevant or distracting information declines with advancing age. This decline in selective attention has been associated with poor modulation of brain activity in sensory cortices by anterior brain regions implicated in cognitive control.

Objective: Here we investigated whether participation in an executive control training program would result in improved selective attention and associated functional brain changes in a sample of healthy older adults (N = 24, age 60-85 years).

Methods: Participants were enrolled in a goal-oriented attentional self-regulation (GOALS) program (n = 11) or a brain health education workshop as an active control condition (n = 13). All participants performed a working memory task requiring attention to or suppression of visual stimuli based on goal-relevance during functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: We observed a pattern of enhanced activity in right frontal, parietal and temporal brain regions from pre- to posttraining in the GOALS intervention group, which predicted the selectivity of subsequent memory for goal-relevant stimuli.

Conclusions: Executive control training in older adults alters functional activity in brain regions associated with attentional control, and selectively predicts behavioral outcome.

Keywords: aging; attention; executive function; fMRI; rehabilitation; training.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Teaching*


  • Oxygen