Older adults tend to over-activate regions throughout frontoparietal cortices and exhibit a reduced range of functional modulation during WM task performance compared to younger adults. While recent evidence suggests that reduced functional modulation is associated with poorer task performance, it remains unclear whether reduced range of modulation is indicative of general WM capacity-limitations. In the current study, we examined whether the range of functional modulation observed over multiple levels of WM task difficulty (N-Back) predicts in-scanner task performance and out-of-scanner psychometric estimates of WM capacity. Within our sample (60–77 years of age), age was negatively associated with frontoparietal modulation range. Individuals with greater modulation range exhibited more accurate N-Back performance. In addition, despite a lack of significant relationships between N-Back and complex span task performance, range of frontoparietal modulation during the N-Back significantly predicted domain-general estimates of WM capacity. Consistent with previous cross-sectional findings, older individuals with less modulation range exhibited greater activation at the lowest level of task difficulty but less activation at the highest levels of task difficulty. Our results are largely consistent with existing theories of neurocognitive aging (e.g. CRUNCH) but focus attention on dynamic range of functional modulation as a novel marker of WM capacity-limitations in older adults.

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Published in Brain and Cognition, v. 118, p. 128-136.

© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This manuscript version is made available under the CC‐BY‐NC‐ND 4.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

The document available for download is the author's post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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This study was supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under award number KL2 UL1TR000116.