Super Agers Have Slower Rate of Mental Decline, Study Finds

By Rebecca Lewis on April 12, 2017

Brain shrinkage has long been associated with age. The older a person gets; the more likely cognitive decline happens. But it isn’t always the case, especially for the ‘super agers’ or those in their 80s and 90s whose sharp memories defy their years.

In their study, researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine have found that super agers performed at least as well as healthy people in their 50s and 60s on tests of episodic memory. Such type of memory involves recalling an event, whether in the recent or distant past. It is the same type of memory which declines among people with Alzheimer’s.

The researchers looked at brain scans taken 18 months apart in the same individuals. Results showed that the super agers lost an average of 1.06 per cent of the volume of the brain’s cortex per year, while the comparison group, comprising older adults of similar ages and average cognitive skills, lost 2.24 per cent.

While some showed brain shrinkage, their brains diminished at about half the rate of their cognitively average peers.

The researchers evidence to characterize the similarities and differences between super agers and their age-matched peers, according to the lead researcher. In the future, they hope to discover the reasons behind these differences, including why the brain volumes of super agers decline at a slower rate.

“Super agers tend to be a socially active and engaged group,” said Amanda Cook, a doctoral candidate in clinical neuropsychology at Northwestern. “But researchers don’t yet know whether super agers’ lifestyle habits — such as diet, exercise, alcohol intake and smoking history — contribute to these individuals’ memory skills”, she said.

The new study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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