Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Secrets of 'SuperAger' brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age

Date:
August 16, 2012
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Scientists for the first time have identified an elite group of elderly people age 80 and older whose memories are as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger than them. And on 3-D MRI scans, the brains of these "SuperAgers" appear as young -- and one brain region was even bigger -- than the brains of the middle-aged participants. The SuperAger's cortex was astoundingly vital and resembled the cortex of people ages 50 to 65.

Do super-agers exist? A new study has for the first time identified an elite group of elderly people age 80 and older whose memories are as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger than them.
Credit: Meddy Popcorn / Fotolia

Researchers have long chronicled what goes wrong in the brains of older people with dementia. But Northwestern Medicine researcher Emily Rogalski wondered what goes right in the brains of the elderly who still have terrific memories. And, do those people -- call them cognitive SuperAgers -- even exist?

Rogalski's new study has for the first time identified an elite group of elderly people age 80 and older whose memories are as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger than them. And on 3-D MRI scans, the SuperAger participants' brains appear as young -- and one brain region was even bigger -- than the brains of the middle-aged participants.

She was astounded by the vitality of the SuperAgers' cortex -- the outer layer of the brain important for memory, attention and other thinking abilities. Theirs was much thicker than the cortex of the normal group of elderly 80 and older (whose showed significant thinning) and closely resembled the cortex size of participants ages 50 to 65, considered the middle-aged group of the study.

"These findings are remarkable given the fact that grey matter or brain cell loss is a common part of normal aging," said Rogalski, the principal investigator of the study and an assistant research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Rogalski is senior author of the paper, which is published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

By identifying older people who seem to be uniquely protected from the deterioration of memory and atrophy of brain cells that accompanies aging, Rogalski hopes to unlock the secrets of their youthful brains. Those discoveries may be applied to protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer's disease.

"By looking at a really healthy older brain, we can start to deduce how SuperAgers are able to maintain their good memory," Rogalski said. "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 brain of SuperAgers. What we learn from these healthy brains may inform our strategies for improving quality of life for the elderly and for combatting Alzheimer's disease."

By measuring the thickness of the cortex -- the outer layer of the brain where neurons (brain cells) reside -- Rogalski has a sense of how many brain cells are left.

"We can't actually count them, but the thickness of the outer cortex of the brain provides an indirect measure of the health of the brain," she said. "A thicker cortex, suggests a greater number of neurons."

In another region deep in the brain, the anterior cingulate of SuperAger participants' was actually thicker than in the 50 to 65 year olds.

"This is pretty incredible," Rogalski said. "This region is important for attention. Attention supports memory. Perhaps the SuperAgers have really keen attention and that supports their exceptional memories."

Only 10 percent of the people who "thought they had outstanding memories" met the criteria for the study. To be defined as a SuperAger, the participants needed to score at or above the norm of the 50 to 65 year olds on memory screenings.

"These are a special group of people," Rogalski said. They aren't growing on trees."

For the study, Rogalski viewed the MRI scans of 12 Chicago-area Superager participants' brains and screened their memory and other cognitive abilities. The study included 10 normally aging elderly participants who were an average age of 83.1 and 14 middle-aged participants who were an average age of 57.9. There were not significant differences in education among the groups.

Most of the SuperAger participants plan to donate their brains to the study. "By studying their brains we can link the attributes of the living person to the underlying cellular features," Rogalski said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Theresa M. Harrison, Sandra Weintraub, M.-Marsel Mesulam and Emily Rogalski. Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Cognitive Aging. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2012 DOI: 10.1017/S1355617712000847

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Secrets of 'SuperAger' brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816201620.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2012, August 16). Secrets of 'SuperAger' brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816201620.htm
Northwestern University. "Secrets of 'SuperAger' brains: Elderly super-agers have brains that look and act decades younger than their age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816201620.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins