Investigating the contribution of the frontal cortex in executive control in normal versus abnormal aging
PELTSCH, Alicia J
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The proportion of elderly individuals in society is increasing dramatically, leading to an increase in the prevalence of age-related neurological disorders that affect the function of the frontal lobes and overall movement control. This thesis aims to evaluate ‘executive control’ and the underlying brain changes in normal versus abnormal aging processes using saccadic eye movement tasks. Tasks performed by subjects that probe executive control consist of antisaccades (generate a voluntary eye movement after inhibiting an automatic movement to a visual stimulus), and memory-guided saccades (generate eye movements to three previous remembered visual stimuli in the same sequence they were presented). Both of these types of saccades require good functioning behavioural control, which is subserved by areas in the prefrontal cortex. This thesis specifically characterizes the changes in oculomotor control related to aging, Huntington’s disease, mild cognitive impairment (amnestic), and Alzheimer’s disease. We also specifically examine the neural mechanisms related to behavioural control in the antisaccade task in aging. Together, the conclusions drawn from this thesis reveal that specific areas in the prefrontal cortex are involved in executive dysfunction in both normal and abnormal aging, but the patient groups studied have provided new understanding that different underlying brain substrates may be altering function in the frontal cortical areas, such as the basal ganglia and the hippocampus.