Jessica Oschwald, Sabrina Guye, Franziskus Liem, Philippe Rast, Sherry Willis, Christina Röcke, Lutz Jäncke, Mike Martin, Susan Mérillat
June 5, 2019
Little is still known about the neuroanatomical substrates related to changes in specific cognitive abilities in the course of healthy aging, and the existing evidence is predominantly based on cross-sectional studies. However, to understand the intricate dynamics between developmental changes in brain structure and changes in cognitive ability, longitudinal studies are needed. In the present article, we review the current longitudinal evidence on correlated changes between magnetic resonance imaging-derived measures of brain structure (e.g. gray matter/white matter volume, cortical thickness), and laboratory-based measures of fluid cognitive ability (e.g. intelligence, memory, processing speed) in healthy older adults. To theoretically embed the discussion, we refer to the revised Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition. We found 31 eligible articles, with sample sizes ranging from n = 25 to n = 731 (median n = 104), and participant age ranging from 19 to 103. Several of these studies report positive correlated changes for specific regions and specific cognitive abilities (e.g. between structures of the medial temporal lobe and episodic memory). However, the number of studies presenting converging evidence is small, and the large methodological variability between studies precludes general conclusions. Methodological and theoretical limitations are discussed. Clearly, more empirical evidence is needed to advance the field. Therefore, we provide guidance for future researchers by presenting ideas to stimulate theory and methods for development.