Study identifies a potential biomarker for decreased brain processing speed in aging

By Todd Taylor

Jessica Kraft and Doctor Adam Woods
(From left) Jessica Kraft and Dr. Adam Woods

Thinning of the cortex in several brain regions in advanced age may be linked with a decrease in the brain’s processing speed, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience and led by University of Florida neuroscientists Adam Woods, Ph.D., and Jessica Kraft.

Using a 3T Siemens MRI scanner, researchers from University of Florida and Unviersity of Arizona’s McKnight Brain Institutes assessed cortical thickness in 186 adults age 65-88. The investigators reported finding an association between significant cortical thining in several brain regions and poorer scores on the Posit Science’s Brain HQ Double Decision cognitive training task.

The results could provide a path for more targeted future interventions, such as non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation. Decreased brain processing speed, which occurs during normal cognitive aging at varying rates, can lead to less independence, higher risk of car accidents and increased risk of memory loss and other thinking problems.

The study examined healthy older adults and found that the cortical thinning of certain right hemisphere brain regions was associated with lower Double Decision task performance scores. The Double Decision task is used as both an assessment to determine brain processing speed of older adults and as an intervention tool to increase processing speed and expand useful field of view, or UFOV — the visual area from which people extract information during a brief glance without moving the head or eyes.

The brain regions that showed cortical thinning in the study included the insula, involved in error processing; the fusiform gyrus, associated with visual integration of objects in a scene; the parahippocampal gyrus, responsible for memory and encoding; and the inferior parietal lobule, associated with spatial orientation and visual search.

“These findings may prove important in planning future interventions targeting the engagement of the right hemisphere, such as non-invasive brain stimulation, to enhance training approaches using the Double Decision task,” said Woods, an associate professor of clinical and health psychology in UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Additionally, this study provides some of the first insight into structural brain areas that may play a critical role in the utility of the Double Decision task as both an assessment and cognitive training tool,” added Woods, associate director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory. “This may prove vital in expanding our understanding of age-related changes in the ability to interpret and respond to our environment quickly as we get older.”

Read the article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.