Age-related deterioration of attention decreases the ability to stay focused on the task at hand due to less efficient selection of relevant information and increased distractibility in the face of irrelevant, but salient stimuli. While older (compared with younger) adults may have difficulty suppressing salient distractors, the extent of these challenges differs vastly across individuals. Cognitive reserve measured by proxies of cognitively enriching life experiences, such as education, occupation, and leisure activities, is thought to mitigate the effects of the aging process and account for variability in trajectories of cognitive decline. Based on combined behavioral and neuroimaging (voxel-based morphometry) analyses of demographic, cognitive, and neural markers of aging and cognitive reserve proxy measures, we examine here predictors of variability in the age-related changes in attention function, indexed by ability to suppress salient distraction. Our findings indicate that in healthy (neurotypical), aging gray matter volume within several right lateralized fronto-parietal brain regions varies according to both levels of cognitive reserve (education) and the capacity to effectively select visual stimuli amid salient distraction. Thus, we provide here novel experimental evidence supporting Robertson's theory of a right lateralized neural basis for cognitive reserve.
Cereb Cortex Commun
aging, cognitive reserve, education, saliency, visual attention