The science of ageing
The ability to solve abstract reasoning problems, sometimes known as ‘fluid intelligence’, plays a central role in many day-to-day activities across the lifespan. Dr Rogier Kievit and colleagues at CamCAN have studied which mental and neural differences play a role in supporting fluid intelligence. They found that mental speed is especially important. Using MRI they also found that the strength of connections between brain regions plays an important role in supporting both mental speed and agility. Mapping these three interconnected mechanisms using mathematical models will help us better understand healthy cognitive aging.
Our ability to sense the environment is known to decline as we grow older. However, a new CamCAN study led by Noham Wolpe finds that the brain’s motor system compensates for this change by relying more strongly on prediction from prior experience. This adapted combination of sensory information and prediction depends on the age-related differences in grey matter integrity and functional connectivity strength in a key brain network for movement.
Many of us experience memory problems as we grow older, but did you know that different types of memory change at different rates? A recent CamCAN study led by Rik Henson shows how age-related differences in three types of memory depend on age-related differences in both the gray-matter integrity of key brain regions and the integrity of white-matter connections between them.
From middle-age, the brains of obese individuals display differences in white matter similar to those in lean individuals ten years their senior, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge. White matter is the tissue that connects areas of the brain and allows for information to be communicated between regions.
Understanding spoken language requires the rapid integration of information at many different levels of analysis. Given the complexity and speed of this process, it is remarkably well preserved with age. Karen Campbell and colleagues challenge the conventional approach to neurocognitive aging by showing that the neural underpinnings of a given cognitive function depend on how you test it.
To better-understand how brain flexibility influences cognition, Kamen Tsvetanov and colleagues first developed techniques to improve measurements of brain function, and then applied those techniques to show that cognitive ability is influenced by brain network flexibility in the frontal cortex. Interestingly, this relationship becomes more important with age, showing that to maintain cognition through the lifespan, brain flexibility is crucial.
Using non-invasive functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and cutting-edge algorithms, CamCAN researchers have developed a new technique to probe the communication patterns between different parts of the human brain. We hope that this technique will give us a clearer picture of how brain connectivity changes during the ageing process, and whether this has a significant effect on cognition.