Objectives: Working memory is essential for daily life skills like reading comprehension, reasoning, and problem-solving. Healthy aging of the brain goes along with working memory decline that can affect older people's independence in everyday life. Interventions in the form of cognitive training are a promising tool for delaying age-related working memory decline, yet the underlying structural plasticity of white matter is hardly studied.
Methods: We conducted a longitudinal diffusion tensor imaging study to investigate the effects of an intensive four-week adaptive working memory training on white matter integrity quantified by global and tract-wise mean diffusivity. We compared diffusivity measures of fiber tracts that are associated with working memory of 32 young and 20 older participants that were randomly assigned to a working memory training group or an active control group.
Results: The behavioral analysis showed an increase in working memory performance after the four-week adaptive working memory training. The neuroanatomical analysis revealed a decrease in mean diffusivity in the working memory training group after the training intervention in the right inferior longitudinal fasciculus for the older adults. There was also a decrease in mean diffusivity in the working memory training group in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus for the older and young participants after the intervention.
Conclusion: This study shows that older people can benefit from working memory training by improving their working memory performance that is also reflected in terms of improved white matter integrity in the superior longitudinal fasciculus and the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, where the first is an essential component of the frontoparietal network known to be essential in working memory.