Regional cortical brain volume is the product of surface area and thickness. These measures exhibit partially distinct trajectories of change across the brain's cortex in older age, but it is unclear which cortical characteristics at which loci are sensitive to cognitive ageing differences. We examine associations between change in intelligence from age 11 to 73 years and regional cortical volume, surface area, and thickness measured at age 73 years in 568 community-dwelling older adults, all born in 1936. A relative positive change in intelligence from 11 to 73 was associated with larger volume and surface area in selective frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital regions (r < 0.180, FDR-corrected q < 0.05). There were no significant associations between cognitive ageing and a thinner cortex for any region. Interestingly, thickness and surface area were phenotypically independent across bilateral lateral temporal loci, whose surface area was significantly related to change in intelligence. These findings suggest that associations between regional cortical volume and cognitive ageing differences are predominantly driven by surface area rather than thickness among healthy older adults. Regional brain surface area has been relatively underexplored, and is a potentially informative biomarker for identifying determinants of cognitive ageing differences.
Keywords: Ageing; Cortex; Intelligence; MRI; Surface area; Thickness.