Cognitive impairment in older adults is a rapidly growing public health concern as the elderly population dramatically grows worldwide. While it is generally assumed that cognitive deficits in older adults are associated with reduced brain flexibility, quantitative evidence has been lacking. Here, we investigate brain flexibility in healthy older adults (ages 60-85) using a novel Bayesian switching dynamical system algorithm and ultrafast temporal resolution (TR = 490 ms) whole-brain fMRI data during performance of a Sternberg working memory task. We identify latent brain states and characterize their dynamic temporal properties, including state transitions, associated with encoding, maintenance, and retrieval. Crucially, we demonstrate that brain inflexibility is associated with slower and more fragmented transitions between latent brain states, and that brain inflexibility mediates the relation between age and cognitive inflexibility. Our study provides a novel neurocomputational framework for investigating latent dynamic circuit processes underlying brain flexibility and cognition in the context of aging.
Keywords: Bayesian models; Cognitive aging; Cognitive flexibility; Latent brain state dynamics; Mediation; Sternberg working memory task.
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