Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Anouk Vermeij (Donders series 207)

18 March 2016
Promotors: prof. dr. R.P.C. Kessels, prof. dr. M.G.M. Olde Rikkert, copromotor: dr. J.A.H.R. Claassen
Cognitive plasticity in normal aging and mild cognitive impairment: Shedding light on prefrontal activation

Normal aging goes accompanied with changes in the brain. In some elderly, these changes lead to memory problems, while other elderly are able to maintain a high level of functioning. Vermeij has investigated the adaptive capacities of the aging brain. The anterior part of the brain, the prefrontal lobe, appeared to be more active in elderly in comparison to young adults. It thus seems that this part of the brain needs to work harder in elderly in order to maintain memory performance. The question of the research project was whether the prefrontal lobe is trainable -and thereby better able to work harder- by intensive memory training. Elderly without memory problems and elderly with mild memory problems followed this computerized training at home. After training, one in six elderly, with and without memory problems, showed an improved performance on memory tasks. In elderly without memory problems, the prefrontal lobe worked more efficient: less effort was required to achieve the same result. Elderly with a 'youthlike' brain (a brain resembling that of young adults) were able to benefit more from the training. However, to date, there is no scientific evidence that memory training would lead to better daily life functioning, or that it would reduce memory problems.