Brain network changes and memory decline in aging.


One theory of age-related cognitive decline proposes that changes within the default mode network (DMN) of the brain impact the ability to successfully perform cognitive operations. To investigate this theory, we examined functional covariance within brain networks using regional cerebral blood flow data, measured by O-water PET, from 99 participants (mean baseline age 68.6 ± 7.5) in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging collected over a 7.4 year period. The sample was divided in tertiles based on longitudinal performance on a verbal recognition memory task administered during scanning, and functional covariance was compared between the upper (improvers) and lower (decliners) tertile groups. The DMN and verbal memory networks (VMN) were then examined during the verbal memory scan condition. For each network, group differences in node-to-network coherence and individual node-to-node covariance relationships were assessed at baseline and in change over time. Compared with improvers, decliners showed differences in node-to-network coherence and in node-to-node relationships in the DMN but not the VMN during verbal memory. These DMN differences reflected greater covariance with better task performance at baseline and both increasing and declining covariance with declining task performance over time for decliners. When examined during the resting state alone, the direction of change in DMN covariance was similar to that seen during task performance, but node-to-node relationships differed from those observed during the task condition. These results suggest that disengagement of DMN components during task performance is not essential for successful cognitive performance as previously proposed. Instead, a proper balance in network processes may be needed to support optimal task performance.