Researchers Find "SuperAgers" Who Avoid Cognitive Decline

Yahoo Contributor Network

A study published Thursday in the online edition of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society has found that there may be a group of people whose brains do not age at the same rate as others. These so-called "SuperAgers" actually appeared to have physiologically different brain function, that even into their 80's mimicked that of people who were up to 30 years younger.

Scientists were unsure that SuperAgers even existed. The study, which was conducted by researchers working through the auspices of Northwestern University, was undertaken specifically to determine whether or not they did.

Here is some of the key information that the study published on Thursday concluded about SuperAgers.

* The study sought to establish whether or not there were people who were resistant to age-related loss of memory and brain mass. To that end, researchers sought people aged 80 and over that met particular criteria regarding their cognitive abilities.

* Specifically, those chosen had to demonstrate cognitive and memory function that was on par with what would normally be expected from a healthy adult who was between the ages of 50 and 65.

* The report on the study's findings indicated that researchers found that there were certain important differences in the brains of SuperAgers versus those of their more typical peers. SuperAgers appeared to have brains that not only had managed to resist the atrophy that would be considered typical for their age group, but also seemed to have resisted the atrophy that would be considered typical for the people in the 50- to 65-year-old control group.

* Additionally, NBC News reported that through the use of MRIs, researchers were able to determine that the cortex of the SuperAgers' brains was as thick as those of someone up to 30 years younger. The brain's cortex influences memory, complex thinking, and attention. The atrophy of the cortex contributes to the loss of memory and other cognitive decline as people age.

* The study's co-author, Emily Rogalski, told NBC News that researchers screened some 300 people aged 80 and over who reported that they still had excellent memories. Out of that initial group of 300, only 30 had cognitive function that was equal to that of the middle-aged control group, meeting the definition of a SuperAger.

* Rogalski told ScienceDaily that she was hoping that by studying how well the brains of SuperAgers have withstood decline, the findings might one day help scientists better understand Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases. She stated that "what we learn from these healthy brains may inform our strategies for improving quality of life for the elderly."

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.

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