Super Agers – What’s So Special About Them?

Posted on March 13, 2017

Photo: flickr

It is not uncommon for us to feel like our brains become weaker as we age. We forget things more frequently, and perhaps we find it harder to multitask. In general, our cognitive processes start to show signs of wear. This is natural, and happens due to the gradual thinning of the outermost layer of our brains, also known as the cortex.

However, a group of senior citizens known as super agers have shown that this deterioration in our cortices is not unavoidable. They can keep their brains and memory functioning at high capacity even as they age. This is because the cortex of a super ager remains thick. Alexandra Touroutoglou, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, and her team administered memory-recalling tests to 40 participants from 60 to 80 years old, and 41 participants from 18 to 35 years old. Within the participants in the former group, it was found that 17 of them performed just as well or even better than the participants in the latter group. MRI scans of these 17 brains clearly showed that their brains looked very similar to those of the younger participants, which was why their brains functioned similarly.

The default mode network, which helps our brains stockpile and retrieve new information, as well as the salience network, which helps our brains pinpoint important minutiae are two regions of the brain that seem to be especially protected from thinning. Prior to this study, other research had found that these regions are indeed crucial communication hubs within the brain. Indeed, the thicker these regions were in the brain of a participant, the better the participant’s memory was.

While research in this area is still in its preliminary stages, understanding more about the factors behind these extremely well-kept brains in super agers could help us look for clues regarding what happens in the brains of patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, and in turn help them. As yet, we do not know why these senior citizens are able to maintain the functional capacity of their brains so well, but researchers have hypothesised that genes and healthy lifestyles play a part. In particular, finding specific regions of the brain that show resistance to thinning could provide new leads and points of study regarding the cellular, molecular and genetic processes that keep these regions thicker.

Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues

Source material from Scientific American

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