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Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Working Memory Reveals Frontal Hypoactivation in Middle-Aged Adults with Cognitive Complaints

  • Andreana P. Haley (a1) (a2), Danielle E. Eagan (a1), Mitzi M. Gonzales (a1), Fedora O. Biney (a1) and Rachel A. Cooper (a1)...

Older adults with cardiovascular disease (CVD) often complain about cognitive difficulties including reduced processing speed and attention. On cross-sectional examination, such reports relate more closely to mood than to cognitive performance; yet, in longitudinal studies, these complaints have foreshadowed cognitive decline over time. To test the hypothesis that self-reported cognitive difficulties reflect early changes in brain function, we examined cognitive complaints and depression in relation to blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) response to a cognitive task in middle-aged adults at risk for CVD. Forty-nine adults (ages 40 to 60 years) completed a measure of perceived cognitive dysfunction (Cognitive Difficulties Scale), medical history questionnaire, neuropsychological assessment and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during a working memory task. Increased report of cognitive difficulties was significantly associated with weaker task-related activation in the right superior frontal/ middle frontal gyrus (F(4,44) = 3.26; p = .020, CDS ß = −0.39; p = .009) and the right inferior frontal gyrus (F(4,44) = 3.14; p = .024, CDS ß = −0.45; p = .003), independent of age, education, and self-reported depressive symptoms. Lower activation intensity in the right superior frontal gyrus was related to trends toward poorer task performance. Thus, self-reported cognitive difficulties among cognitively normal middle-aged adults may provide important clinical information about early brain vulnerability that should be carefully monitored. (JINS, 2011, 17, 915–924)

Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Andreana P. Haley, Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station, A8000, Austin, TX 78712. E-mail:
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Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society
  • ISSN: 1355-6177
  • EISSN: 1469-7661
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-neuropsychological-society
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