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Purpose: To evaluate patterns of activation, convergence and divergence of three functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) Working Memory (WM) tasks in two different age groups. We want to understand potential impact of task and subjects’ age on WM activations as well as most important areas with regard to WM functions.
Materials and methods: Thirty-five healthy volunteers completed visual, verbal, and novel auditory WM tasks. The subjects were selected from age extremes to depict possible impact of normal aging. The General Linear Model was used to report significant activations and the effect of age group. Contrasts revealed differences in activation between tasks, and Combined Task Analysis was performed to determine common regions of activation across tasks.
Results: Most of the observed differences between the tasks were seen in areas that were responsible for feature processing. Frontal regions were mainstay activation areas, regardless of the utilized stimulus. We found an age-related reduction in activity of visual (in visually-presented tasks) and auditory (in auditory task) cortices but an age-related increase in prefrontal cortex for all tasks.
Conclusion: Regardless of the type of the task stimuli, frontal regions are the most important activation areas in WM processing. These areas are also main targets of age-related changes with regard to activation patterns. Our results also indicate that prefrontal overactivity in working memory might be a compensatory effort to mask age-related decline in sensory processing.