Prefrontal deficits in attention and inhibitory control with aging

Cerebral Cortex
L L Chao, Robert T Knight

Abstract

Event-related potentials and behavioral measures were obtained from young and elderly subjects while they performed two different auditory delayed match-to-sample tasks. In each experiment, subjects had to indicate whether an initial and a subsequent test sound were identical in two different conditions: one filled with distracting tone pips and one with no distractors. Electrophysiologically, elderly subjects had reduced attention-related activity over frontal regions. In addition, the distracting stimuli elicited an enhanced primary auditory evoked response in the elderly. The percentage of perseverative errors on the Wisconsin card sorting test, a putative measure of frontal lobe function, was positively correlated with the amplitude of the primary auditory evoked response in elderly subjects. Behaviorally, elderly subjects were impaired by distractors at long but not short delays. Taken together, these results suggest that increased distractibility and impaired sustained attention with aging may be due to altered prefrontal cortex function. These data support the loss of prefrontal suppression over the primary auditory regions with aging.

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