Abstract Exposure to enriched environments throughout a lifetime, providing so called reserve, protects against cognitive decline in later years. It has been hypothesised that high levels of alertness necessitated by enriched environments might strengthen the right fronto-parietal networks to facilitate this neurocognitive resilience. We have previously shown that enriched environments offset age-related deficits in selective attention by preserving grey matter within right fronto-parietal regions. Here, using neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging, we examined the relationship between enriched environments, microstructural properties of fronto-parietal white matter association pathways (three branches of the superior longitudinal fasciculus), structural brain health (atrophy), and attention (alertness, orienting and executive control) in a group of older adults. We show that exposure to enriched environments is associated with a lower orientation dispersion index within the right superior longitudinal fasciculus 1 which in turn mediates the relationship between enriched environments and alertness, as well as grey- and white-matter atrophy. This suggests that enriched environments may induce white matter plasticity (and prevent age-related dispersion of axons) within the right fronto-parietal networks to facilitate the preservation of neurocognitive health in later years.
Oxford University Press (OUP)