Behavioural studies investigating the preservation of semantic memory in healthy ageing have reported mixed findings. One suggested reason for this discrepancy is that the processes underpinning lexical access to semantic knowledge may be sensitive to ageing. It is therefore necessary to assess semantic memory utilising tasks that are not explicitly linguistic. In this study, a fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS) paradigm coupled with EEG was used to assess the ability of younger and older adults to automatically distinguish between images by their semantic category. Participants were presented with a 6 Hz stream of images drawn from one semantic category except every fifth image (occurring at a rate of 1.2 Hz) which was drawn from an alternate semantic category. For both younger and older adults, results demonstrate successful and comparable semantic categorisation. This was detectable at the individual level for 71% and 72% of older and younger adults, respectively. Given the rapid presentation rate and absence of explicit instruction to categorise images, the task is unlikely to utilise linguistic strategies and suggests the maintenance of semantic memory in healthy ageing. Moreover, this study utilised mobile EEG equipment and short presentation times that would be suitable for practical application outside a research setting.
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