It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! Oh Wait – It’s a SuperAger!

As we age, cognitive abilities, including memory, typically decline. However, SuperAgers defy this trend. SuperAgers are those who maintain memory function comparable to people much younger than their own actual age. Recently, researchers sought to understand the brain structures of SuperAgers and the factors linked to this remarkable phenomenon.

The study examined cognitively healthy participants aged 79.5 years or better from the Vallecas Project cohort. To identify SuperAgers, the researchers compared participants’ memory scores to those of 50- to 56-year-olds and assessed their performance in non-memory tests. SuperAgers were those who scored as well or better than the younger group in memory and within one standard deviation of their age and education level in non-memory tests. Ultimately, 64 SuperAgers (mean age 81.9 years, 59% women) and 55 typical older adults (mean age 82.4 years, 64% women) were identified.

The findings revealed that SuperAgers exhibited greater grey matter volume in specific brain regions, including the medial temporal lobe, cholinergic forebrain, and motor thalamus. Over time, SuperAgers experienced slower total grey matter atrophy, particularly in the medial temporal lobe, compared to typical older adults. Machine learning analysis identified factors that set SuperAgers apart, such as faster movement speed and better mental health, despite no significant differences in exercise frequency. Interestingly, blood biomarker levels related to dementia were similar between SuperAgers and typical older adults, suggesting that SuperAgers possess a natural resilience to age-related memory decline.

This study suggests that factors associated with preventing dementia are also relevant for resisting age-related memory decline and brain atrophy. The link between SuperAging and movement speed may offer new insights into preserving memory function well into old age. Understanding SuperAgers’’ unique characteristics could potentially inform strategies to support cognitive health in the ninth decade of life and beyond.

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Garo-Pascual, M., Gaser, C., Zhang, L., Jussi Tohka, Medina, M., & Strange, B. A. (2023). Brain structure and phenotypic profile of superagers compared with age-matched older adults: a longitudinal analysis from the Vallecas Project.

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