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Decades of research have demonstrated that normal aging accompanies cognitive change. Much of this change has been conceptualized as a decline in function. However, age-related changes are not universal. Oft-found decrements in older adult performance may be moderated by experience, genetics, and environmental factors. To date, cognitive aging has largely emphasized biological changes in the brain, with less evaluation of the range of external contributors to behavioral manifestations of age-related decrements in performance. The goal of this book is to examine cognitive aging through the lens of a life course perspective. Understanding cognition within the context of both the life span (aging) and the life course (experience) is a relatively new approach to the field of cognitive aging. However, the approach has already pushed the field forward in theoretically and practically important ways.
Decades of research have demonstrated that normal aging is accompanied by cognitive change. Much of this change has been conceptualized as a decline in function. However, age-related changes are not universal, and decrements in older adult performance may be moderated by experience, genetics, and environmental factors. Cognitive aging research to date has also largely emphasized biological changes in the brain, with less evaluation of the range of external contributors to behavioral manifestations of age-related decrements in performance. This handbook provides a comprehensive overview of cutting-edge cognitive aging research through the lens of a life course perspective that takes into account both behavioral and neural changes. Focusing on the fundamental principles that characterize a life course approach - genetics, early life experiences, motivation, emotion, social contexts, and lifestyle interventions - this handbook is an essential resource for researchers in cognition, aging, and gerontology.
This chapter reviews major theories of cognitive aging. Theories such as the sensory deficit hypothesis, speed of processing, and inhibitory deficit hypothesis are based largely on behavioral findings and focus on a single process that is purported to account for a number of cognitive changes with age. Specific to memory, theories focus on age deficits in recollection and binding. Over the past twenty-five years, brain-based models have begun to pervade the literature. These have focused on concepts such as compensation, dedifferentiation, and suppression of the default mode network. The scaffolding theory of aging and cognition integrates many of these concepts into a single comprehensive model, including consideration of enrichment and depletion factors that operate over the life span. We conclude the chapter with some debates, critiques, and consideration of future directions, particularly considering the contributions of cognitive neuroscience methods.
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