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Aging, Motivation, and Addiction



October 5-6, 2009
NIDA/NIA Workshop
Marriott Washington

NIDA Organizer:
James M. Bjork, Ph.D.

NIA Organizer:
Lis Nielsen, Ph.D.

Meeting Purpose and Intent:

Experts in psychology, behavioral economics, social/affective and cognitive neuroscience, and neuroeconomics were invited to discuss mechanisms of motivation and their relation to self-regulation (including executive function and emotion regulation) in aging and addiction. Questions to be explored at the workshop included:

  • What is the impact of aging or chronic drug abuse on psychological, behavioral, and neural mechanisms for motivation?
  • Might age-dependent changes in the neurocircuitry of motivation and decision-making render older adults vulnerable to addictive behaviors or other psychosocial problems?
  • Might chronic drug abuse exacerbate the effects of normative aging on executive control and decision-making?

Workshop goals: 1) To clarify the state of current knowledge on neuroanatomical substrates and behavioral dynamics of decision-making and motivation and development, with an emphasis on what is known about developmental differences in these processes with aging from young to old adulthood, 2) To identify, with participation of attendees, specific gaps in this knowledge that could be addressed in behavioral as well as neuroimaging studies of decision-making and motivation in normative aging, or in drug abuse.

Meeting Outcome, Emerging Themes:

The consensus among invited speakers was that there is virtually nothing known about how advanced aging and current or past histories of chronic drug exposure specifically interact. There appears, however, potential interactions due to some similarities in cognitive decrements in aging and in drug abuse and in their impacts on underlying neural systems. In addition, there was an appreciation for the need for better characterization of cognitive and affective changes (decrements as well as enhancements) in each condition (drug abuse, advanced age) considered by itself. Of particular importance to this end would be the use of standardized, very well-characterized behavioral tasks from the normative cognitive neuroscience field that are amenable to implementation across a wide age range. Speakers highlighted the challenge of undertaking such work due to its highly interdisciplinary nature, and stressed the need for interdisciplinary collaborations for such work.

Additional comments:

  • Research on the intersection of aging and addiction should utilize well-characterized cognitive challenge tasks that have been developed by the community that studies normative cognition, instead of idiosyncratic tasks (like Iowa Gambling Task) that were inspired by (to mimic) a certain clinical condition.
  • There is a role for consideration of different subtypes of stress in this research, in as much as some data indicate that stress influences decision-making, often by promoting cognitively facile choices.
  • The potential role of sleep deprivation in both OA and DA must be considered—controlled for, if not actually studied.
  • Research findings in both aging and addiction are frequently viewed through a biased lens, where any behavioral differences, such as brain activation differences, are reflexively interpreted as a non-adaptive decrement, when this may in fact be erroneous.
  • There is considerable variability in drug use histories among drug abusers (especially drug users of advanced age) that must be matched or controlled for.
  • Sound research proposals on this subject would require a very interdisciplinary investigative team, including each of DA clinical specialists, cognitive neuroscientists, and gerontologists.

Agenda (PDF Format, 176 kb)





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