With age comes increasing knowledge and experience across many life domains. This store of knowledge and lived experience can be invaluable in making decisions and solving problems of daily life. At the same time, cognitive control abilities which are necessary to deal with novel or changing situations decline with age, potentially leaving older adults more dependent on past experiences in these contexts. Of course repeating the past does not necessarily lead to the optimal outcomes. If our knowledge and experience is not a ‘good fit' with the problem, then relying on the past might not result in the best decision.
Unfortunately, little is known about how older adults balance this shift in thinking skills, from cognitive control abilities to greater reliance on past experience and knowledge in later life. Interestingly, changes in the brain that occur with aging mirror this pattern of cognitive changes. Communication between brain regions involved in accessing our stored knowledge, and those involved in cognitive control, increases with age. This suggests that older adults may access past knowledge to support cognitive functioning more frequently, or more automatically, than younger adults. However, the relationship between these brain changes and cognitive functioning is not well understood. The current proposal will investigate this relationship directly using brain imaging and brain stimulation methods.
The longer term goal of this research program is to understand what factors may help older adults take advantage of these brain changes to maximally leverage their vast repertoire of knowledge and experience to sustain cognitive health in later life.