Age-Related Atrophy and Compensatory Neural Networks in Reading Comprehension

Megan C. Fitzhugh, Brittany Braden, Marwan N. Sabbagh, Corianne Reddy, Leslie C. Baxter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Objectives: Despite changes to brain integrity with aging, some functions like basic language processes remain remarkably preserved. One theory for the maintenance of function in light of age-related brain atrophy is the engagement of compensatory brain networks. This study examined age-related changes in the neural networks recruited for simple language comprehension. Methods: Sixty-five adults (native English-speaking, right-handed, and cognitively normal) aged 17-85 years underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reading paradigm and structural scanning. The fMRI data were analyzed using independent component analysis to derive brain networks associated with reading comprehension. Results: Two typical frontotemporal language networks were identified, and these networks remained relatively stable across the wide age range. In contrast, three attention-related networks showed increased activation with increasing age. Furthermore, the increased recruitment of a dorsal attention network was negatively correlated to gray matter thickness in temporal regions, whereas an anterior frontoparietal network was positively correlated to gray matter thickness in insular regions. Conclusions: We found evidence that older adults can exert increased effort and recruit additional attentional resources to maintain their reading abilities in light of increased cortical atrophy.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


    • Aging
    • atrophy
    • compensation
    • frontal attention
    • functional MRI
    • language

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Neuroscience(all)
    • Clinical Psychology
    • Clinical Neurology
    • Psychiatry and Mental health

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