Changes in language functions during normal aging are greater for phonological compared with semantic processes. To investigate the behavioral and neural basis for these age-related differences, we used fMRI to examine younger and older adults who made semantic and phonological decisions about pictures. The behavioral performance of older adults was less accurate and less efficient than younger adults' in the phonological task but did not differ in the semantic task. In the fMRI analyses, the semantic task activated left-hemisphere language regions, and the phonological task activated bilateral cingulate and ventral precuneus. Age-related effects were widespread throughout the brain and most often expressed as greater activation for older adults. Activation was greater for younger compared with older adults in ventral brain regions involved in visual and object processing. Although there was not a significant Age × Condition interaction in the whole-brain fMRI results, correlations examining the relationship between behavior and fMRI activation were stronger for younger compared with older adults. Our results suggest that the relationship between behavior and neural activation declines with age, and this may underlie some of the observed declines in performance.

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