Increasing life expectancy is prompting the need to understand how the brain changes during healthy aging. Research utilizing electroencephalography (EEG) has found that the power of alpha oscillations decrease from adulthood on. However, non-oscillatory (aperiodic) components in the data may confound results and thus require re-investigation of these findings. Thus, the present report analyzed a pilot and two additional independent samples (total N = 533) of resting-state EEG from healthy young and elderly individuals. A newly developed algorithm was utilized that allows the decomposition of the measured signal into periodic and aperiodic signal components. By using multivariate sequential Bayesian updating of the age effect in each signal component, evidence across the datasets was accumulated. It was hypothesized that previously reported age-related alpha power differences will largely diminish when total power is adjusted for the aperiodic signal component.
First, the age-related decrease in total alpha power was replicated. Concurrently, decreases of the intercept and slope (i.e. exponent) of the aperiodic signal component were observed. Findings on aperiodic-adjusted alpha power indicated that this general shift of the power spectrum leads to an overestimation of the true age effects in conventional analyses of total alpha power. Thus, the importance of separating neural power spectra into periodic and aperiodic signal components is highlighted. However, also after accounting for these confounding factors, the sequential Bayesian updating analysis provided robust evidence that aging is associated with decreased aperiodic-adjusted alpha power. While the relation of the aperiodic component and aperiodic-adjusted alpha power to cognitive decline demands further investigation, the consistent findings on age effects across independent datasets and high test-retest reliabilities support that these newly emerging measures are reliable markers of the aging brain. Hence, previous interpretations of age-related decreases in alpha power are reevaluated, incorporating changes in the aperiodic signal.