Age-related deterioration of performance and increase of cortex activity comparing time- versus item-controlled fNIRS measurement

Sci Rep. 2021 Mar 24;11(1):6766. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-85762-w.


In our aging society, research into neurodegenerative processes is of great interest. Thereby, cortical activation under different neurocognitive conditions is considered to be a promising predictor. Against this background, the executive functions of a total of 250 healthy older adults (53-84 years) have been investigated using the Trail Making Test (TMT) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy in a block design. We investigated effects of age on the performance and cortical blood oxygenation during the TMT. Since it is assumed that older people may compensate for cognitive deficits by slowing their processing speed, we additionally analyzed the cortical blood oxygenation per solved item. Our results showed a significant decrease in processing speed in older participants compared to middle-aged individuals, however, also lower error rates during TMT part A. On a neurophysiological level, we observed increased cortical blood oxygenation in the older participants when completing the TMT. Finally, with respect to the combined measurement (O2Hb/item), no significantly higher hemodynamic cortical response per item was found within the older participants. The results confirm a deterioration of cognitive performance and an increase of cortical activity with increasing age. The findings are discussed in the light of current research.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Biomarkers
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods*


  • Biomarkers