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NeWMaBIL Report Summary

Project ID: 657255
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NeWMaBIL (Neural correlates of working memory control in aged bilinguals)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The European population is getting older. This fact enhances the cases of degenerative processes, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The process of ageing exerts changes in the functionality of our brain, and in turn in our cognition.
Recent data predict that he 20% of Europeans will be 65 or over by 2025. In this context, describing the cognitive features, the neural patterns and the factors that contribute to slow-down cognitive depletion in aging becomes necessary for diagnosis and for the design of interventions.

The human brain contains the ability to tolerate age-related changes and disease-related pathologies without developing clear clinical symptoms. This capacity constitutes the well-known concept of cognitive reserve (CR) and shows the potentiality of the neural architecture to be shaped by experience. The educational level, occupational attainment, enrollment in leisure activities and, recently, bilingualism, have been proposed as proxies of CR.
Working memory and attention are interrelated cognitive skills which are affected by aging. Attention takes an important role since allows us to select the relevant information and inhibit the irrelevant information of an ongoing task. Cognitive functions are represented by the dynamical communication of distributed oscillatory neural activity of the brain. Studying the oscillatory patterns of the ongoing neural activity allows us to investigate the cognitive features of aging.

The overall objectives of this project were to study how aging affects the neural patterns of attention during working memory and study how these patterns relate with the individual cognitive reserve (including bilingual abilities) and cognitive capacities.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Work completed:
-Implementation of the experimental paradigm (including task design, selection of stimuli and coding of the task).
-Acquisition of pilot data.
-Design of the cognitive screening.
-MEG data, MRI data and cognitive screening data acquisition.
-MEG data, MRI data and cognitive screening data analysis.
-Presentation of results at international conferences.
-Preparation for publication.

Main results:
The three main results are the following:
(1) Brain oscillations are modulated in response to attentional demands
(2) Aging reduces the attentional and working memory abilities
(3) Bilingual proficiency shows no reliable relation with the neural oscillatory modulation
(4) Bilingual proficiency points to be related with the ability to handle interference in older adults, and with the general cognitive abilities in younger adults

Exploitation and dissemination
Conference Presentations:
-Modulation of alpha oscillations in humans during allocation of internal resources in relation to sub-regions of the striatum: effects of aging. SfN, Society for Neuroscience. Washington (USA), 11-15 November, 2017.
-Oscillatory mechanisms for orienting attention to internal representations: effects of aging. ICON, International conference for cognitive neuroscience. Amsterdam, (Netherlands) 5-8 August, 2017.
- Aging and oscillatory neural activity in magnetoencephalography. CNC, Spanish Consortium of Clinical Neuropsychology. Bilbao, (Spain) 1-3 February, 2018.

Papers in preparation:
-Exploring the cognitive reserve in aging: how bilingual proficiency contributes to our cognitive skills in aging. S. Aurtenetxe et al.
-Reduced modulation of alpha and beta oscillations in aging during attentional resource allocation of working memory. S. Aurtenetxe et al.,
-Diminished beta lateralization during attentional allocation is diminished in aging: effects of sub-regions of the striatum. S. Aurtenetxe et al.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Aging includes structural, neurophysiological, vascular and neurochemical changes in our brain. These changes point to underlie the so called cognitive changes associated with aging. Identification of the factors that contribute to prevent cognitive deficits in ageing is today then, one of the main aims of the society. In this context, the present project contributes to the knowledge about the cognitive features of aging, describes the neural mechanisms underlying attentional control in working memory and offers new evidence about the contribution of cognitive reserve in aging. Together, the project includes important evidence on the role of neural activity during cognitive processing in aging. Importantly, current results will potentially contribute to the design of interventions focused on slowing down cognitive depletion in aging. The dramatic increase in life expectancy has created an older population. This framework presents important challenges which include, by instance, important human and economic resources which respond to the demands in health care. Under this framework, socio-economic efforts are now focused on the prevention of diseases. In this line, we believe that the present project will serve to current and future design of interventions focused on the slowing down of the cognitive decline in healthy and in pathological aging.

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