Frontal lobe involvement in a task of time-based prospective memory

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Abstract

Time-based prospective memory (PM) has been found to be negatively affected by aging, possibly as a result of declining frontal lobe (FL) function. Despite a clear retrospective component to PM tasks, the medial temporal lobes (MTL) are thought to play only a secondary role in successful task completion. The present study investigated the role of the FLs and MTLs in time-based PM, as well as their involvement in clock monitoring, plan generation, and time estimation, each of which may play a role in the execution of time-based PM tasks. Based upon their scores on composite measures of FL and MTL function, 32 older adults were divided into four groups, and were then tested on a time-based laboratory PM task. Overall age effects were also assessed and each of the four groups was compared to a group of 32 younger adults. High-frontal functioning participants demonstrated better prospective memory than low-frontal functioning participants, and were not distinguishable from younger adults. Older adults with high-MTL scores performed significantly better than those with low-MTL scores, but only if they were also high in FL function. FL function, but not MTL function, predicted patterns of clock monitoring, quality of plans generated to assist in time-based PM performance, and the accuracy of time estimation. Again, on each of these measures the performance of the high-frontal group was equivalent to that of the younger adults. The results of this study suggest that it is not aging per se that disrupts PM performance, but it is instead primarily the diminished frontal function seen in a subset of older adults.

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