Use it or Lose it? An interdisciplinary approach to understanding the adaptation of the ageing brain to a fast-changing world

Researcher: Celina Putz, MSc (PhD student)

Expected thesis defense: 2023

Other promotors: Prof. dr. Monicque Lorist (first promotor), Prof. dr. Martien Kas (second promotor)

Funding: UMCG

The past two decades have been marked by a major growth in technology being incorporated into society and public services. At the same time, we are faced with an increasingly aging society. Older adults in particular often might encounter difficulties adapting to these technological advancements, as it is known that deficits in behavioural flexibility occur with aging. Based on limited empirical evidence from recordings of electrical brain activity in humans, it has been suggested that especially neural mechanisms underlying reward-based learning are vulnerable to ageing. On a cortical level in humans, feedback-based learning involves a fast cascade of processes implicated in the detection and processing of feedback information and the recruitment of cognitive control necessary to update the information processing system in order to optimize future performance. Additionally, at the subcortical level, human fMRI data and local field potentials measured in rodents suggest a role for the brain’s reward regions to enable flexible behavioural responses under learning conditions. Given the differences in temporal and spatial resolution of the methods used, and the different study groups, the link between these two sets of findings remains elusive, as well as the impact of age on these mechanisms underlying reward-based learning. The proposed project aims at gaining insights into changes in mechanisms involved in learning in the aging brain.

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