Neural Mechanisms of Prospective Memory

Prospective memory (remembering to carry out an intention at an opportune time in the future) is especially important for older adults. Age-related prospective memory failures can threaten independent living and, for health-related concerns, even be life threatening. There exists considerable debate over the key cognitive and neural processes involved in prospective memoryand age-related changes in prospective memory. The current project represents a groundbreaking study designed to use cutting-edge fMRI techniques to illuminate the neural mechanisms associated with both age-related declines in prospective memory, as well as with the age-related sparing in prospective memory that has been reported in some studies. The novelty of the proposed work is underscored by the absence of any neuroimaging work on prospective memory and aging. Our approach distinguishes between event based prospective memory tasks, which require that prospective goals be carried out when signaled by a specific event, and time-based prospective memory tasks, which require the intended action to be performed at a particular time or after an elapsed period of time. Further, we evaluate several key and novel theoretical predictions. We suggest that some prospective memory tasks require strategic cognitive processes, processes associated with sustained activity in anterior PFC. We predict that age-related impairment on these prospective memory tasks will hinge on age-related decline in these anterior PFC processes. In contrast, other prospective memory tasks can be supported by relatively spontaneous processes associated with transient, event-driven activation of MTL/HC, PPC and posterior PFC. We anticipate that older adults will show intact transient neural activation in these areas relative to younger adults, and that this intact neural activation will mediate spared prospective remembering in older adults.

NIH Challenge Grant, McDaniel, M. PI, Braver, T., Co-I

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