A Systematic Review of the Application of Functional Near-InfraredSpectroscopy to the Study of Cerebral Hemodynamics in Healthy Aging

Michael K. Yeung (Corresponding Author), Agnes S. Chan (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that healthy aging is associated with functional brain deterioration that preferentially affects the prefrontal cortex. This article reviews the application of an alternative method, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), to the study of age-related changes in cerebral hemodynamics and factors that influence cerebral hemodynamics in the elderly population. We conducted literature searches in PudMed and PsycINFO, and selected only English original research articles that used fNIRS to study healthy individuals with a mean age of ≥ 55 years. All articles were published in peer-reviewed journals between 1977 and May 2019. We synthesized 114 fNIRS studies examining hemodynamic changes that occurred in the resting state and during the tasks of sensation and perception, motor control, semantic processing, word retrieval, attentional shifting, inhibitory control, memory, and emotion and motivation in healthy older adults. This review, which was not registered in a registry, reveals an age-related reduction in resting-state cerebral oxygenation and connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. It also shows that aging is associated with a reduction in functional hemispheric asymmetry and increased compensatory activity in the frontal lobe across multiple task domains. In addition, this article describes the beneficial effects of healthy lifestyles and the detrimental effects of cardiovascular disease risk factors on brain functioning among nondemented older adults. Limitations of this review include exclusion of gray and non-English literature and lack of meta-analysis. Altogether, the fNIRS literature provides some support for various neurocognitive aging theories derived from task-based PET and fMRI studies. Because fNIRS is relatively motion-tolerant and environmentally unconstrained, it is a promising tool for fostering the development of aging biomarkers and antiaging interventions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuropsychology Review
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2020


  • aging
  • brain
  • compensation
  • near-infrared spectroscopy
  • NIRS
  • older adults

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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