Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Kristy Nielson

Second Advisor

Nakia Gordon

Third Advisor

Stephen Guastello

Abstract

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research indicates that as an individual's age increases, the task-related spatial extent of neural activation increases. This decrease in neural specificity, or dedifferentiation, is often demonstrated by older adults during challenging cognitive tasks. Cognitively intact individuals at-risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD), as deemed by having an apolipoprotein-E ε4 allele or a family history of AD, demonstrate increased fMRI activation as compared to individuals at lower risk. Using a low effort, high accuracy event-related semantic memory task involving the presentation of famous and non-famous names, we examined spatial neural specificity through a measure of dedifferentiation using fMRI. In particular, the goal was to look at degree of dedifferentiation between older healthy subjects with or without risk factors for AD. Our results indicated that while there was not a significant difference between the two groups on the total amount of neural dedifferentiation, there was a significant interaction between stimulus type and risk group. Individuals at-risk for AD displayed greater dedifferentiation for non-famous names yet greater differentiation (i.e., less dedifferentiation) for famous names as compared to the low-risk group. These findings may reflect disturbances in memory formation for individuals at-risk for AD.