Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Research Articles

Compensatory Brain Activity during Encoding among Older Adults with Better Recognition Memory for Face-Name Pairs: An Integrative Functional, Structural, and Perfusion Imaging Study

Katherine J. Bangena1 c1, Allison R. Kaupa2, Heline Mirzakhaniana1, Christina E. Wierengaa1a3, Dilip V. Jestea1a4 and Lisa T. Eylera1a4a5

a1 Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California

a2 San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego, California

a3 Research Service, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California

a4 Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, La Jolla, California

a5 Desert-Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California


Many neuroimaging studies interpret the commonly reported findings of age-related increases in frontal response and/or increased bilateral activation as suggestive of compensatory neural recruitment. However, it is often unclear whether differences are due to compensation or reflective of other cognitive or physiological processes. This study aimed to determine whether there are compensatory age-related changes in brain systems supporting successful associative encoding while taking into account potentially confounding factors including age-related differences in task performance, atrophy, and resting perfusion. Brain response during encoding of face-name pairs was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging in 10 older and nine young adults and was correlated with memory performance. During successful encoding, older adults demonstrated increased frontal and decreased occipital activity as well as greater bilateral involvement relative to the young. Findings remained significant after controlling for age-related cortical atrophy and hypoperfusion. Among the older adults, greater response was associated with better memory performance. Cognitive aging may involve recruitment of compensatory mechanisms to improve performance or prevent impairment. Results extend previous findings by suggesting that age-related alterations in activation cannot be attributed to the commonly observed findings of poorer task performance, reduced resting perfusion, or cortical atrophy among older adults. (JINS, 2012, 18, 402–413)

(Received October 13 2011)

(Revised January 27 2012)

(Accepted January 27 2012)


c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Katherine J. Bangen, 9500 Gilman Drive # 9151B, La Jolla, CA 92093-9151B, E-mail: