Brain activity typically increases with increasing working memory (WM) load, regardless of age, before reaching an apparent ceiling. However, older adults exhibit greater brain activity and reach ceiling at lower loads than younger adults, possibly reflecting compensation at lower loads and dysfunction at higher loads. We hypothesized that WM training would bolster neural efficiency, such that the activation peak would shift towards higher memory loads after training. Pre-training, older adults showed greater recruitment of the WM network than younger adults across all loads, with decline at the highest load. Ten days of adaptive training on a verbal WM task improved performance and led to greater brain responsiveness at higher loads for both groups. For older adults the activation peak shifted rightward towards higher loads. Finally, training increased task-related functional connectivity in older adults, both within the WM network and between this task-positive network and the task-negative/default-mode network. These results provide new evidence for functional plasticity with training in older adults and identify a potential signature of improvement at the neural level.
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