We studied the performance of young and senior subjects on a well known working memory task, the Operation Span. This is a dual-task in which subjects perform a memory task while simultaneously verifying simple equations. Positron-emission tomography scans were taken during performance. Both young and senior subjects demonstrated a cost in accuracy and latency in the Operation Span compared with performing each component task alone (math verification or memory only). Senior subjects were disproportionately impaired relative to young subjects on the dual-task. When brain activation was examined for senior subjects, we found regions in prefrontal cortex that were active in the dual-task, but not in the component tasks. Similar results were obtained for young subjects who performed relatively poorly on the dual-task; however, for young subjects who performed relatively well in the dual-task, we found no prefrontal regions that were active only in the dual-task. Results are discussed as they relate to the executive component of task switching.
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