Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging: Linking Cognitive and Cerebral Aging

By Roberto Cabeza; Lars Nyberg et al. | Go to book overview

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Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging
Emergence of a New Discipline

Roberto Cabeza Lars Nyberg Denise C. Park

Until recently, the cognitive and neural mechanisms of age-related changes in cognition were usually studied independently of each other. On one hand, studies in the domain of cognitive psychology of aging investigated the effects of aging on behavioral measures of cognition and characterized a variety of age-related deficits in memory, attention, and the like. On the other hand, studies in the domain of neuroscience of aging investigated the effects of aging on the anatomy and physiology of the brain and described forms of age-related neural decline, such as cerebral atrophy and synaptic loss. Although it is reasonable to assume that cognitive aging is largely a consequence of cerebral aging, the relationships between these two phenomena are still largely unknown. Fortunately, this void is being rapidly resolved by studies focusing on the relationships between the effects of aging on the cognition and on the brain. This group of studies constitutes the new discipline of cognitive neuroscience of aging (CNA). Although CNA has a long past, only lately has it achieved the critical mass to be considered an autonomous discipline. The main goal of this book is to provide an introduction to this exciting new field.

To describe the issues addressed by CNA, it is useful to start with a simple model that includes the basic components of the problem. In the model in figure 1.1, aging is assumed to affect structures and processes both in the brain and regarding cognition. Although artificial, the distinctions between brain and cognition and between structures and processes are useful for conceptual purposes. Likewise, even though any change in cognition implies a change in the brain, it is useful to distinguish between neurogenic and psychogenic effects. Neurogenic effects (solid arrows in figure 1.1) occur when a change in the brain causes a change in cognition. For example, age-related atrophy of prefrontal gray matter may lead to decline in work-

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