This study compared the brain activation of young and older subjects during the use of the task-switching paradigm (TSP) at various task speeds to examine the relationship between task load and brain activation. Specifically, it attempted to examine whether the task load-dependent BOLD response gradient is a useful tool for functional magnetic resonance imaging-based assessments of age-related changes in cognitive function. We predicted that the extent of the activation of the brain regions responsible for task-set reconfiguration and the inhibition of task switching functions induced during the performance of a TSP-based task would vary according to age. Task difficulty was controlled by altering the inter-stimulus interval. Although similar brain regions were activated in both age groups, significant differences in the extent of the activation were detected between the young and older groups. In particular, some regions were activated in the older group, but not the young group. This study indicated that TSP-based task performance-induced activation of the brain regions linked to executive function increases with age and that the degree and pattern of such activation depend on the content and difficulty of the task being performed. This indicates that the age- and task difficulty-dependent augmentation of brain activation varies between brain regions.
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