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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Aging and cognition

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Abstract As we grow older, we gain knowledge and experience greater emotional balance, but we also experience memory loss and difficulties in learning new associations. Which cognitive abilities decline, remain stable or improve with age depends on the health of the brain and body as well as on what skills are practiced or challenged in everyday life. Recent research provides a growing understanding of the relationship between physical and cognitive changes across the life span and reveals ways to increase mental sharpness and avoid cognitive decline. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This article is categorized under: Psychology > Development and Aging

Test scores from a meta‐analysis of vocabulary scores among younger and older adults. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale‐Revised (WAIS‐R) requires production of definitions for words and the Shipley is a multiple choice test. Reprinted with permission from Ref. 28 Copyright 2003 American Psychological Association.

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The percent prevalence of cardiovascular disease in adults aged 20 and above by age and sex. Figure reprinted with permission from Ref 128 Copyright 2007 American Heart Association; data from the 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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The percent prevalence of low idea density in early life autobiographies by late life cognitive state for 180 participants in the Nun Study. Data from Riley et al.119.

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Participants were asked which of five hypothetical car models they would purchase and were given information about each car's safety, fuel economy, cost, handling, and comfort that could be displayed by clicking on the corresponding box (a). Compared with younger adults, older participants spent a larger proportion of their time examining positive attributes of the cars and a smaller proportion of their time examining negative attributes (b). Figure adapted with permission from Ref 109 Copyright 2005 American Psychological Association.

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Younger and older adults' eye movements were measured while they looked at pairs of pictures for 6 s each. An example negative–neutral pair and an example neutral–positive pair are shown (a). Divided attention participants were distracted by a concurrent listening task while they looked at the pictures, whereas control participants just looked at the pictures. As indicated by the above‐50% scores, participants' first fixation was more likely to be on an emotional picture than on a neutral picture, regardless of age (b). However, age differences emerged in the remaining time the pictures were shown, with older adults showing a positivity effect in the control condition but a negativity effect in the divided attention condition. Figures adapted with permission from Ref 89 Copyright 2007 American Psychological Association.

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Frequency distribution of reported correlations between hippocampal volume and 107 memory tests used across the 33 studies in a meta‐analysis. Correlations between 0.60 and 0.50 were collapsed and plotted as 0.55, correlations between 0.50 and 0.40 collapsed and plotted as 0.45, and so on. The distribution reveals no consistent relationship between hippocampal volume and memory performance. Reprinted with permission from Ref 76 Copyright 2004 Elsevier.

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Participants completed a working memory task (a) in which they were shown a series of three objects in specific locations and then had to keep the information in mind during an 8‐s delay before responding to a test probe. On object trials, they were prompted to remember the objects, on location trials they were prompted to remember the locations and on combination trials they were prompted to remember the object–location pairings. Older adults were more accurate (measured using d′) for the single‐feature object and location trials than for the combination trials, and this difference between feature and associative memory was greater for older adults than younger adults (b). Figure adapted with permission from Ref 69 Copyright 2000 American Psychological Association.

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Summary of 5‐year changes in cortical regions. The effect size (Cohen's d) is the difference between the baseline and 5‐year follow‐up measures in standard deviation units. PFC, lateral prefrontal cortex; HC, hippocampus; IPL, inferior parietal lobule; OFC, orbitofrontal cortex; IT, inferior temporal cortex; FG, fusiform gyrus; EC, entorhinal cortex; VC, primary visual cortex. The bars indicate 95% confidence limits of d. Reprinted with permission from Ref 52 Copyright 2007 The New York Academy of Sciences.

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(a) Participants completed working memory trials that differed in the instructions given at the beginning of the run about whether to remember the faces, the scenes or just observe the images. (b) For younger participants, signal magnitude within a scene‐processing region of the brain was greater when they were trying to remember the scenes than when they were passively viewing them—but more interesting, signal magnitude within this same region was lower when they were trying to ignore the scenes and remember the faces than when they had just passively viewed all the images. (c) Older adults showed greater signal magnitude in a scene‐selective brain region when trying to remember scenes than when passively viewing, but they did not show the same suppression of activity as younger adults in the ignore‐scenes condition. Figures reprinted with permission from Ref 50 Copyright 2005 Nature Publishing Group.

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(a) Mean corrected recognition (Recog) scores for single presentation, repeat, and refresh trials. Bars indicate standard error of the mean. Figure reprinted with permission from Ref 42 Copyright 2002 Wiley‐Blackwell. (b) Left prefrontal region in which older adults showed less refresh‐related activation and the corresponding average time courses within a trial for younger and older adults. Asterisks show results for refresh trials, circles show results for repeat trials, and squares show results for read trials. Figure reprinted with permission from Ref 142 Copyright 2004 Wiley‐Blackwell.

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