Changes in working memory are sensitive indicators of both normal and pathological brain aging and associated disability. The present study aims to further understanding of working memory in normal aging using a large cohort of healthy elderly in order to examine three separate phases of information processing in relation to changes in task load activation. Using covariance analysis, increasing and decreasing neural activation was observed on fMRI in response to a delayed item recognition task in 337 cognitively healthy elderly persons as part of the CRESCENDO (Cognitive REServe and Clinical ENDOphenotypes) study. During three phases of the task (stimulation, retention, probe), increased activation was observed with increasing task load in bilateral regions of the prefrontal cortex, parietal lobule, cingulate gyrus, insula and in deep gray matter nuclei, suggesting an involvement of central executive and salience networks. Decreased activation associated with increasing task load was observed during the stimulation phase, in bilateral temporal cortex, parietal lobule, cingulate gyrus and prefrontal cortex. This spatial distribution of decreased activation is suggestive of the default mode network. These findings support the hypothesis of an increased activation in salience and central executive networks and a decreased activation in default mode network concomitant to increasing task load.
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