The Functional Foundations of Episodic Memory Remain Stable Throughout the Lifespan

It has been suggested that specific forms of cognition in older age rely largely on late-life specific mechanisms. 


Here instead, we tested using task-fMRI (n = 540, age 6–82 years) whether the functional foundations of successful episodic memory encoding adhere to a principle of lifespan continuity, shaped by developmental, structural, and evolutionary influences. We clustered regions of the cerebral cortex according to the shape of the lifespan trajectory of memory activity in each region so that regions showing the same pattern were clustered together. The results revealed that lifespan trajectories of memory encoding function showed a continuity through life but no evidence of age-specific mechanisms such as compensatory patterns. Encoding activity was related to general cognitive abilities and variations of grey matter as captured by a multi-modal independent component analysis, variables reflecting core aspects of cognitive and structural change throughout the lifespan. Furthermore, memory encoding activity aligned to fundamental aspects of brain organization, such as large-scale connectivity and evolutionary cortical expansion gradients. Altogether, we provide novel support for a perspective on memory aging in which maintenance and decay of episodic memory in older age needs to be understood from a comprehensive life-long perspective rather than as a late-life phenomenon only.

Cerebral Cortex, 2020, 

Published Dec. 14, 2020 6:00 AM