Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging: Linking Cognitive and Cerebral Aging

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

11
Three Principles for Cognitive
Aging Research
Multiple Causes and Sequelae,
Variance in Expression and Response,
and the Need for Integrative Theory

Randy L. Buckner

Consider three very different individuals. Each is about 80 years of age and representative of older adults all of us are likely to know. One is actively engaged in social life, reads the paper daily, and debates her children on political issues at holidays. The second, still active in life, is a bit less flexible in thinking and is aware that he is not quite as quick as when he retired. The third is in a nursing home and does not recognize her family members when they come to visit. All have led roughly similar lives, as far as can be easily discerned, and all were unaware of their divergent futures the decade before. Why are these individuals so different?

Consider further the patterns shown in figure 11.1 (E. H. Rubin et al., 1998). Each panel represents longitudinal measures of cognitive ability in a different individual. One individual shows prolonged cognitive stability; the others decline rapidly after a period of stability. And, among those who decline, they do so at quite different ages. Why is there so much variability in the age of onset of prominent cognitive decline?

Perhaps most perplexing is the variance that presents itself when variance should be at bay. Consider the disease CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy). CADASIL is a genetic form of dementia often characterized by severe executive dysfunction (see Kalimo, Ruchoux, et al., 2002, for review). It is an autosomal dominant disease, which means that if an individual inherits the relevant gene, he or she will show the associated age-dependent pathology.

In CADASIL, the pathology is white matter damage, with some suggestion of preferential influence on anterior brain regions. Individuals with CADASIL typically show cognitive problems at about the age of 40. Nonetheless, even though CADASIL

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