Transfer Effects to a Multimodal Dual-Task after Working Memory Training and Associated Neural Correlates in Older Adults - A Pilot Study

Stephan Heinzel, Jérôme Rimpel, Christine Stelzel, Michael A Rapp
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2017, 11: 85
Working memory (WM) performance declines with age. However, several studies have shown that WM training may lead to performance increases not only in the trained task, but also in untrained cognitive transfer tasks. It has been suggested that transfer effects occur if training task and transfer task share specific processing components that are supposedly processed in the same brain areas. In the current study, we investigated whether single-task WM training and training-related alterations in neural activity might support performance in a dual-task setting, thus assessing transfer effects to higher-order control processes in the context of dual-task coordination. A sample of older adults (age 60-72) was assigned to either a training or control group. The training group participated in 12 sessions of an adaptive n-back training. At pre and post-measurement, a multimodal dual-task was performed in all participants to assess transfer effects. This task consisted of two simultaneous delayed match to sample WM tasks using two different stimulus modalities (visual and auditory) that were performed either in isolation (single-task) or in conjunction (dual-task). A subgroup also participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during the performance of the n-back task before and after training. While no transfer to single-task performance was found, dual-task costs in both the visual modality (p < 0.05) and the auditory modality (p < 0.05) decreased at post-measurement in the training but not in the control group. In the fMRI subgroup of the training participants, neural activity changes in left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) during one-back predicted post-training auditory dual-task costs, while neural activity changes in right DLPFC during three-back predicted visual dual-task costs. Results might indicate an improvement in central executive processing that could facilitate both WM and dual-task coordination.

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