Same Same But Different: Processing Words in the Aging Brain


  • Froehlich Eva
  • Liebig Johanna
  • Morawetz Carmen
  • Ziegler Johannes C.
  • Braun Mario
  • Heekeren Hauke R.
  • Jacobs Arthur M.

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Reading is not only one of the most appreciated leisure activities of the elderly but it clearly helps older people to maintain functional independence, which has a significant impact on life quality. Yet, very little is known about how aging affects the neural circuits of the processes that underlie skilled reading. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to systematically investigate the neural correlates of sublexical, orthographic, phonological and lexico-semantic processing in the aging brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we recorded brain activity of younger (N = 20; 22-35 years) and older (N = 38; 65-76 years) adults during letter identification, lexical decision, phonological decision and semantic categorization. Older and younger adults recruited an identical set of reading-related brain regions suggesting that the general architecture of the reading network is preserved across the lifespan. However, we also observed age-related differences in brain activity in the subcomponents of the reading network. Age-related differences were most prominent during phonological and orthographic processing possibly due to a failure of older adults to inhibit non-optimal reading strategies. Neural effects of aging were also observed outside reading-related circuits, especially in frontal midline regions. These regions might be involved because of their important role in memory, attention and executive control functions and their potential role in resting-state networks. (C) 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of IBRO.

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