Functional compensation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex improves memory-dependent decisions in older adults.
Everyday consumer choices frequently involve memory, as when we retrieve information about consumer products when making purchasing decisions. In this context, poor memory may affect decision quality, particularly in individuals with memory decline, such as older adults. However, age differences in choice behavior may be reduced if older adults can recruit additional neural resources that support task performance. Although such functional compensation is well documented in other cognitive domains, it is presently unclear whether it can support memory-guided decision making and, if so, which brain regions play a role in compensation. The current study engaged younger and older humans in a memory-dependent choice task in which pairs of consumer products from a popular online-shopping site were evaluated with different delays between the first and second product. Using functional imaging (fMRI), we found that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) supports compensation as defined by three a priori criteria: (1) increased vmPFC activation was observed in older versus younger adults; (2) age-related increases in vmPFC activity were associated with increased retrieval demands; and (3) increased vmPFC activity was positively associated with performance in older adults-evidence of successful compensation. Extending these results, we observed evidence for compensation in connectivity between vmPFC and the dorsolateral PFC during memory-dependent choice. In contrast, we found no evidence for age differences in value-related processing or age-related compensation for choices without delayed retrieval. Together, these results converge on the conclusion that age-related decline in memory-dependent choice performance can be minimized via functional compensation in vmPFC.
Lighthall, NR; Huettel, SA; Cabeza, R
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