Cognitive workload across the spectrum of cognitive impairments: A systematic review of physiological measures

Maud Ranchet, John C. Morgan, Abiodun Emmanuel Akinwuntan, Hannes Devos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Our objective was to identify the physiological measures that are sensitive to assessing cognitive workload across the spectrum of cognitive impairments. Three database searches were conducted: PubMed, PsychINFO, and Web of Science. Studies from the last decade that used physiological measures of cognitive workload in older adults (mean age >65 years-old) were reviewed. The cognitive workload of healthy older individuals was compared with the cognitive workload of younger adults, patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and patients with Alzheimer's diseases (AD). The most common measures of cognitive workload included: electroencephalography, magnetoencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, pupillometry, and heart rate variability. These physiological measures consistently showed greater cognitive workload in healthy older adults compared to younger adults when performing the same task. The same was observed in patients with MCI compared to healthy older adults. Behavioral performance declined when the available cognitive resources became insufficient to cope with the cognitive demands of a task, such as in AD. These findings may have implications for clinical practice and future cognitive interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)516-537
Number of pages22
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cognitive workload
  • Healthy aging
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Physiological measures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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