Transcranial Doppler Sonography Reveals Reductions in Hemispheric Asymmetry in Healthy Older Adults during Vigilance




Harwood, Amanda E.
Greenwood, Pamela M.
Shaw, Tyler H.

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Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience


Given that older adults are remaining longer in the workforce, their ability to perform demanding cognitive tasks such as vigilance assignments needs to be thoroughly examined, especially since many vigilance assignments affect public safety (e.g., aviation, medicine and long distance driving). Previous research exploring the relation between aging and vigilance is conflicted, with some studies finding decreased vigilance performance in older adults but others finding no effect of age. We sought a better understanding of effects of age on vigilance by assessing neurophysiological change over the course of a vigil in young (aged 18–24) and healthy older (aged 66–77) adults. To measure temporal changes in cerebral blood flow, participants underwent functional transcranial doppler (fTCD) recording during a 1 h vigilance task. Based on research showing a compensatory effect of increased left hemisphere activation during vigilance in young adults and the “hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults” (HAROLD) model, we predicted that during vigilance our older adults would show greater left hemisphere activation but perform at a similar level compared to young adults. While cerebral blood flow velocity (CBFV) declined over time in both groups, only young adults showed the typical right-lateralized CBFV pattern. Older adults showed greater left hemisphere activation consistent with the HAROLD model. However, the increased left hemisphere activation did not appear to be compensatory as the older adults performed at a significantly lower level compared to young adults over the vigil. Findings are discussed in terms of the HAROLD model of healthy aging and the resource theory of vigilance.



Cognitive aging