Cognitive functions in normal aging

Cognitive performance declines in healthy aging. Longitudinal studies performed over the last two decades have shown that mean age-related changes accelerate after the age of 65. Changes are most pronounced in fluid abilities such as processing speed, working memory, and episodic memory. Our recent studies have continued to refine the description of cognitive changes in healthy aging and aimed at explaining the individual differences in these changes, using data from the SNAC-K study and from complementary smaller-scale data collections. We have reported that age differences in cognitive performance at baseline in the SNAC-K study are most pronounced for processing speed and episodic memory performance1. In addition, we demonstrated that single genetic polymorphisms can only explain small portions of the individual differences in these cognitive abilities in old age1. Other studies have revealed that individuals displaying more moment-to-moment fluctuations in cognitive performance are also those individuals who are forgetting more2. In addition, we have discovered that day-to-day fluctuations in cognitive performance are linked to fluctuation in negative affect3. Moreover, we have reported that the finding that negative information is better remembered also holds for older adults4. Thus, our research has continued to refine the understanding of the aging cognitive system, linking performance across domains of cognitive functioning and time scales and relating it to genetics and emotion.

  1. Laukka EJ, Lövdén M, Herlitz A, Karlsson S, Ferencz B, Pantzar A, Keller L, Graff C, Fratiglioni L, Bäckman L. Genetic effects on old-age cognitive functioning: a population-based study. Psychol Aging 2013; 28(1):262-474.
  2. Papenberg G, Bäckman L, Chicherio C, Nagel I E, Heekeren H R, Lindenberger U, et al. Higher intraindividual variability is associated with more forgetting and dedifferentiated memory systems in old age. Neuropsychologia 2011; 49(7):1879-1888.
  3. Brose A, Schmiedek F, Lövdén M, Lindenberger U. Daily variability in working memory is coupled with negative affect: the role of attention and motivation. Emotion 2012; 12(3):605-617.
  4. Gavazzeni J, Andersson T, Bäckman L, Wiens S, Fischer H. Age, gender, and arousal in recognition of negative and neutral pictures one year later. Psychol Aging 2012; 27:1039-1052.