Detecting cognitive decline in high-functioning older adults: The relationship between subjective cognitive concerns, frequency of high neuropsychological test scores, and the frontoparietal control network

Justin E. Karr, Jonathan G. Hakun, Daniel B. Elbich, Cristina N. Pinheiro, Frederick A. Schmitt, Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Neuropsychologists have difficulty detecting cognitive decline in high-functioning older adults because greater neurological change must occur before cognitive performances are low enough to indicate decline or impairment. For high-functioning older adults, early neurological changes may correspond with subjective cognitive concerns and an absence of high scores. This study compared high-functioning older adults with and without subjective cognitive concerns, hypothesizing those with cognitive concerns would have fewer high scores on neuropsychological testing and lower frontoparietal network volume, thickness, and connectivity. Method: Participants had high estimated premorbid functioning (e.g., estimated intelligence ≥75th percentile or college-educated) and were divided based on subjective cognitive concerns. Participants with cognitive concerns (n = 35; 74.0 ± 9.6 years old, 62.9% female, 94.3% White) and without cognitive concerns (n = 33; 71.2 ± 7.1 years old, 75.8% female, 100% White) completed a neuropsychological battery of memory and executive function tests and underwent structural and resting-state magnetic resonance imaging, calculating frontoparietal network volume, thickness, and connectivity. Results: Participants with and without cognitive concerns had comparable numbers of low test scores (≤16th percentile), p = .103, d = .40. Participants with cognitive concerns had fewer high scores (≥75th percentile), p = .004, d = .71, and lower mean frontoparietal network volumes (left: p = .004, d = .74; right: p = .011, d = .66) and cortical thickness (left: p = .010, d = .66; right: p = .033, d = .54), but did not differ in network connectivity. Conclusions: Among high-functioning older adults, subjective cognitive decline may correspond with an absence of high scores on neuropsychological testing and underlying changes in the frontoparietal network that would not be detected by a traditional focus on low cognitive test scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-231
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 26 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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