Electrophysiology and Aging: Slowing, Inhibition, and Aerobic Fitness

  • Robert E. Dustman
  • Rita Y. Emmerson
  • Donald E. Shearer


Just as gray hair and wrinkles are the physical hallmarks of aging, certain behavioral characteristics distinguish the old from the young. In general, elderly people are slower, have poorer memory, and are less able to solve complex or novel problems. These age-related changes are typically attributed to degenerative processes in the central nervous system (CNS) and are reflected in the brain’s electrical activity. The electroencephalogram (EEG) and event-related potentials (ERPs) have been used extensively to study changes in brain function throughout development and adult aging. In this chapter, literature describing age differences in EEG and ERPs are reviewed and the hypothesis that these electrophysiological measures reflect slowing and a relative inflexibility of function within the CNS are developed. It is proposed that some age differences in EEG and ERPs are the result of reduced CNS functioning and that changes in inhibitory strength may underlie age-related decline in cognitive abilities, particularly those that require “mental flexibility.” Also reviewed and discussed are recent and exciting findings indicating that variability of some behavioral and electrophysiological measures may be related to individual differences in frequency and intensity of physical activity and resulting cardiovascular fitness.


Visually Evoke Potential P300 Amplitude Aerobic Fitness Adult Aging Somatosensory Evoke Potential 
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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert E. Dustman
  • Rita Y. Emmerson
  • Donald E. Shearer

There are no affiliations available

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