About this Research Topic
Studies have consistently demonstrated that cognitive stimulating activities protect against the negative effects of brain pathology on cognition in aging. These stimulating activities are thought to increase adaptive behavior via compensatory processes, a phenomenon also known as cognitive reserve. Although it is generally accepted that more efficient executive functioning is a main mediator of this adaptive behavior, little is known regarding the exact underlying cognitive and neurophysiological mechanisms. One potential explanation is that increased adaptability can be explained via an underlying enhanced cognitive flexibility. Flexibility, a function traditionally associated with prefrontal cortex functioning, allows us to switch between mental states in order to adapt our behavior to different tasks or environmental demands. Hence, strategies that aim to improve adaptability via the improvement of cognitive flexibility might translate best into preservation and enhancement of cognitive abilities and therefore successful ageing.
The idea that adaptive behavior is mediated by cognitive flexibility has received some support from different lines of research on cognitive reserve and stimulating activity. These range from neurophysiological studies (e.g., adaptations in neurotransmitters such as noradrenaline and GABA) to behavioral studies. For example, bilingualism promotes healthy cognitive aging, with bilingualism presumably being associated with more effortful switching. Other studies, however, including those using cognitive flexibility training, have reported mixed, or even negative, results. In order to better understand the role of cognitive flexibility as a mechanistic process underlying adaptive behavior in normal and pathological aging, a systematic evaluation of this function is needed, integrating findings from studies in the field of basic neuroscience in e.g. healthy and at-risk populations, with clinical studies in patient populations.
The goal of this Research Topic is to elucidate the causative role of cognitive flexibility in our ability to adapt to the aging-related changing in brain structure and function. We welcome original reports, review studies and case reports that address the role of cognitive flexibility in neurocognitive functioning in normal (including adult lifespan) and pathological aging populations. Examples include (but are not limited to) studies:
• That elucidate the short- and long-term role of cognitive flexibility in protecting against the (healthy) aging process at the (neuro)cognitive and neurotransmitter level;
• That elucidate protective factors (such as changes in cognitive reserve/flexibility) via e.g. cohort/lifespan studies;
• That use patient models to unravel the underlying (neuro)cognitive and neurotransmitter correlates of (mal)adaptive behavior and physiological changes, and the interplay of these levels over time;
• Testing the utility of interventions to improving adaptability, including cognitive flexibility (e.g. via cognitive training, pharmacological interventions, nutrition, physical exercise, combined interventions).
Keywords: Aging, dementia, cognitive reserve, brain, neurotransmitters
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.