Research Paper Volume 11, Issue 12 pp 4090—4106
Cognitive compensatory mechanisms in normal aging: a study on verbal fluency and the contribution of other cognitive functions
- 1 Department of Clinical Psychology, Psychobiology and Methodology, Faculty of Psychology, University of La Laguna, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
- 2 Division of Clinical Geriatrics, Center for Alzheimer Research, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences, and Society, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
- 3 Department of Neuroimaging, Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, UK
received: February 16, 2019 ; accepted: June 17, 2019 ; published: June 22, 2019 ;https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.102040
How to Cite
Copyright: Gonzalez-Burgos et al. This is an open‐access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Verbal fluency has been widely studied in cognitive aging. However, compensatory mechanisms that maintain its optimal performance with increasing age are not completely understood. Using cross-sectional data, we investigated differentiation and dedifferentiation processes in verbal fluency across the lifespan by analyzing the association between verbal fluency and numerous cognitive measures within four age groups (N=446): early middle-age (32-45 years), late middle-age (46-58 years), early elderly (59-71 years), and late elderly (72-84 years). ANCOVA was used to investigate the interaction between age and fluency modality. Random forest models were conducted to study the contribution of cognition to semantic, phonemic, and action fluency. All modalities declined with increasing age, but semantic fluency was the most vulnerable to aging. The most prominent reduction in performance was observed during the transition from middle-age to early elderly, when cognitive variables stopped contributing (differentiation), and new cognitive variables started contributing (dedifferentiation). Lexical access, processing speed, and executive functions were among the most contributing functions. We conclude that the association between age and verbal fluency is masked by age-specific influences of other cognitive functions. Differentiation and dedifferentiation processes can coexist. This study provides important data for better understanding of cognitive aging and compensatory processes.