Aging is characterized by a decline of cognitive control. In semantic cognition, this leads to the paradox that older adults usually show poorer task performance than young adults despite their greater semantic knowledge. So far, the underlying neural changes of these behavioral differences are poorly understood. In the current neuroimaging study, we investigated the interaction of domain-specific and domain-general networks during verbal semantic fluency in young and older adults. Across age groups, task processing was characterized by a strong positive integration within the multiple-demand as well as between the multiple-demand and the default mode network during semantic fluency. However, the behavioral relevance of strengthened connectivity differed between groups: While within-network functional connectivity in both networks predicted greater efficiency in semantic fluency in young adults, it was associated with slower performance in older adults. Moreover, only young adults profited from connectivity between networks for their semantic memory performance. Our results suggest that the functional coupling of usually anticorrelated networks is critical for successful task processing, independent of age, when access to semantic memory is required. Furthermore, our findings lend novel support to the notion of reduced efficiency in the aging brain due to neural dedifferentiation in semantic cognition.
Keywords: aging; connectivity; default mode network; language production; multiple-demand network.
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.