Thursday, August 25, 2016
Brain Study - "SuperAgers"
They’re age 80 and older, yet they have the memory and brain power of people in their 50s. So what’s their secret? That’s what researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are trying to figure out. A new study found that this elite group of elderly — or SuperAgers, as researchers call them — have brains that appear as young as people in the prime of middle-age. In fact, one brain region of this SuperAger group was even bigger and healthier than a person’s in midlife. The senior study author wanted to know what was different about the brains of people in their 80s who were super-sharp cognitively. For the study, participants in their 80s and older were screened. Only 10 percent of those who considered themselves to have “outstanding memories,” made the cut. Eventually, 12 SuperAgers, plus a control group of 10 normally aging adults with an average age of 83, were chosen, as well as 14 middle-aged participants, average age 58. Looking at three-dimensional MRI scans, researchers were surprised by the remarkable appearance of the SuperAgers’ cortex – that is the portion of the brain responsible for memory, attention and other thinking abilities. While the cortex had begun to thin among normally aging people in their 80s, the SuperAger group had a thick, healthy cortex similar to adults 20 or 30 years younger. Plus, in another brain region important for memory, the SuperAgers’ was actually thicker than those age 50 to 65. Researchers’ ultimate goal is to unlock the secret behind why some people are protected against the deterioration of memory and diminished brain cells that typically accompanies aging. She hopes her discoveries can help protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer’s disease. Many scientists study what’s wrong with the brain, but maybe we can ultimately help Alzheimer’s patients by figuring out what goes right in the brains of SuperAgers.