Inter- and Intra-Hemispheric Age-Related Remodeling in Visuo-Spatial Working Memory
Electroencephalography (EEG) studies investigating visuo-spatial working memory (vWM) in aging typically adopt an event-related potential (ERP) analysis approach that has shed light on the age-related changes during item retention and retrieval. However, this approach does not fully enable a detailed description of the time course of the neural dynamics related to aging. The most frequent age-related changes in brain activity have been described by two influential models of neurocognitive aging, the Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults (HAROLD) and the Posterior-Anterior Shift in Aging (PASA). These models posit that older adults tend to recruit additional brain areas (bilateral as predicted by HAROLD and anterior as predicted by PASA) when performing several cognitive tasks. We tested younger (N = 36) and older adults (N = 35) in a typical vWM task (delayed match-to-sample) where participants have to retain items and then compare them to a sample. Through a data-driven whole scalp EEG analysis we aimed at characterizing the temporal dynamics of the age-related activations predicted by the two models, both across and within different stages of stimulus processing. Behaviorally, younger outperformed older adults. The EEG analysis showed that older adults engaged supplementary bilateral posterior and frontal sites when processing different levels of memory load, in line with both HAROLD and PASA-like activations. Interestingly, these age-related supplementary activations dynamically developed over time. Indeed, they varied across different stages of stimulus processing, with HAROLD-like modulations being mainly present during item retention, and PASA-like activity during both retention and retrieval. Overall, the present results suggest that age-related neural changes are not a phenomenon indiscriminately present throughout all levels of cognitive processing.