The science of ageing
Below are summaries of some of the ways we are currently
investigating our research themes. We are continuing to assemble
our cohort of 700 individuals, so example data presented are
preliminary and for illustration purposes only.
How do different measures of brain structure and function
tell us about the ageing process?
A number of neuroimaging methods are under development for this
project which are aimed at addressing the challenges and
potentials of this unique dataset. This includes overcoming a
number of data challenges such as normalizing accurately when
measuring grey matter integrity across a wide age range, and
sensitively measuring the integrity of white matter networks.
Functional networks are being assessed in both fMRI and MEG,
allowing for the ability to compare network measures across
modalities in the same individuals. Methods of combining neural
data with multiple types of cognitive or background data are being
developed using structural equation modelling, mediation models
and naturalistic tasks that produce a rich, multidimensional
dataset. Read more about some of these developments here.
How is good cognitive performance supported by neural
Many of our current investigations are focussed on understanding
how patterns of activity change and develop gradually over the
lifespan. See the neuroimaging
methods pagefor more information on measures of connectivity
and neural networks that will reveal important information about
age-related changes to neural networks.
In addition to long-term neural flexibility optimising
performance also requires flexibly over the short range, for
example during an individual testing session. This kind of
flexibility is being examined in examinations of motor
control and priming during an episodic memory task.
Which cognitive abilities and individuals have successful
Ongoing research demonstrates a number of dissociations between
cognitive abilities that decline with age and those that don't.
These dissociations emphasize how informative it is to examine
processes that are not negatively affected by age. Critically,
preserved abilities are neither simple, nor are they are obviously
unrelated to abilities that do decline.
One example of this dissociation can be seen in tasks that are
supported by frontal lobe function. Although the frontal lobes
appear to be particularly affected by the normal ageing process,
there seems to be a dissociation between abilities affected by
posterior frontal lobes which decline with age, and preserved
abilities that are supported by more anterior frontal lobes. Read
Another dissociation between preserved and impaired function is
evident from language performance. Current data support a
well-supported dissociation between language production and
comprehension during ageing. There is a strong effect of age on
the ability to fluently produce words using a number of tasks.
However, comprehending syntactic structure is preserved. Read more
How do different cognitive domains interact with each
other and other background factors?
Current investigations focus on gathering background measures
that may impact on cognitive and neural health. For example,
cognitive abilities may be impacted by general mental health, as
reflected in measures of anxiety and depression, or by lifestyle
factors like sleep patterns. Read more here.
Another kind of interaction is revealed by the measurement of
multiple cognitive domains in the Cam-CAN testing sessions. For
example, different aspects of learning are being examined with motor
learning and episodic memory tasks.
Likewise, emotion processing is being measured from a number of
different angles including emotional memory, emotional
regulation, and emotional face recognition.
These different measures provide a richer understanding of
processes like learning and emotion processing, and also provide
the ability to link between disparate cognitive domains in the
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