Temporal discounting, the tendency to select a smaller reward offered sooner over a larger reward offered at a later time, has been associated with a number of real-world decision-making outcomes important for health and wellbeing. Neurobiological mechanisms supporting temporal discounting have been explored among younger participants, and these have considered white matter integrity. However, the white matter correlates of temporal discounting in older adults are unclear. We hypothesized that greater temporal discounting would be associated with poorer white matter integrity measures, more specifically lower fractional anisotropy and higher trace, in older adults. Participants were 302 older persons without dementia (mean age = 81.38, mean years of education = 15.75, 75.5% female, mean MMSE = 28.29) from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based longitudinal study of aging. Temporal discounting was assessed using standard elicitation questions. White matter integrity was assessed with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Regression models were adjusted for the effects of age, sex, education, and white matter lesions. Secondary models further adjusted for global cognition. Results revealed significant associations between temporal discounting and white matter integrity measures (FA and trace) in bilateral frontal, frontostriatal, and temporal-parietal lobe white matter tracts, and results remained significant after further accounting for global cognition. These results suggest that temporal discounting is inversely associated with white matter integrity in old age and that this association is independent of global cognition.
Keywords: DTI; Diffusion tensor imaging; Fractional anisotropy; Temporal discounting; Trace; White matter.