Enhanced and bilateralized visual sensory processing in the ventral stream may be a feature of normal aging
Evidence has emerged for age-related amplification of basic sensory processing indexed by early components of the visual evoked potential (VEP). However, since these age-related effects have been incidental to the main focus of these studies, it is unclear whether they are performance dependent or alternately, represent intrinsic sensory processing changes. High-density VEPs were acquired from 19 healthy elderly and 15 young control participants who viewed alphanumeric stimuli in the absence of any active task. The data show both enhanced and delayed neural responses within structures of the ventral visual stream, with reduced hemispheric asymmetry in the elderly that may be indicative of a decline in hemispheric specialization. Additionally, considerably enhanced early frontal cortical activation was observed in the elderly, suggesting frontal hyper-activation. These age-related differences in early sensory processing are discussed in terms of recent proposals that normal aging involves large-scale compensatory reorganization. Our results suggest that such compensatory mechanisms are not restricted to later higher-order cognitive processes but may also be a feature of early sensory-perceptual processes.