The HAROLD (hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults) model, proposed by Cabeza in 2002, suggests that age-related neurofunctional changes are characterised by a significant reduction in the functional hemispheric lateralisation in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The supporting evidence, however, has been derived from qualitative explorations of the data rather than from explicit statistical assessments of functional lateralisation. In contrast, the CRUNCH (compensation-related utilisation of neural circuits hypothesis) model posits that elderly subjects recruit additional brain regions that do not necessarily belong to the contralateral hemisphere as much as they rely on additional strategies to solve cognitive problems. To better assess the validity and generalisability of the HAROLD model, we analysed the fMRI patterns of twenty-four young subjects (age range: 18-30 years) and twenty-four healthy elderly subjects (age range: 50-80 years) collected during the performance of two linguistic/semantic tasks (a picture-naming task and a sentence judgment task) and two episodic long-term memory (eLTM) recognition tasks for the same materials. The functional hemispheric lateralisation in each group and the ensuing between-group differences were quantitatively assessed using statistical lateralisation maps (SLMs). The number of clusters showing a genuine HAROLD effect was proportional to the level of task demand. In addition, when quantitatively significant, these effects were not restricted to the PFC. We conclude that, in its original version, the HAROLD model captures only some of the age-related brain patterns observed in graceful ageing. The results observed in our study are compatible with the more general CRUNCH model, suggesting that the former patterns can be considered a special manifestation of age-related compensatory processes.
- Hemispheric lateralisation
- Prefrontal cortex
- Statistical lateralisation map
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