Distinct aspects of frontal lobe structure mediate age-related differences in fluid intelligence and multitasking.

26 Jun 2018

Ageing is characterized by declines on a variety of cognitive measures. These declines are often attributed to a general, unitary underlying cause, such as a reduction in executive function owing to atrophy of the prefrontal cortex. However, age-related changes are likely multifactorial, and the relationship between neural changes and cognitive measures is not well-understood. Here we address this in a large (N=567), population-based sample drawn from the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) data. We relate fluid intelligence and multitasking to multiple brain measures, including grey matter in various prefrontal regions and white matter integrity connecting those regions. We show that multitasking and fluid intelligence are separable cognitive abilities, with differential sensitivities to age, which are mediated by distinct neural subsystems that show different prediction in older versus younger individuals. These results suggest that prefrontal ageing is a manifold process demanding multifaceted models of neurocognitive ageing.