‘Super agers’ have incredibly sharp memories, according to new research

‘We’re really speaking to a resistance to age-related decline,’ researcher says

Olivia Hebert
Los Angeles
Wednesday 01 May 2024 03:34 BST
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Super-ager octogenarians have been found to have incredibly sharp memories similar to people decades younger than themselves, say researchers.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the brains of super-agers indicate that they have less brain atrophy compared to many of their peers. The research was conducted on 119 octogenarians from Spain, specifically looking at 64 super-agers and 55 older adults with normal memory abilities for their age.

Each participant completed a variety of tests that assessed their memory, motor, and verbal skills. They also underwent brain scans and blood draws and were given questionnaires to complete about their everyday habits and lifestyle.

The super-agers and the control group both showed fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, but the super-agers had more volume in areas of the brain important for memory.

The front of the brain also exhibited better connectivity between the areas that are key to cognitive recognition. Dr Bryan Strange - the lead researcher and a professor who studies clinical neuroscience at the Polytechnic University of Madrid - noted that although there were similarities between both groups, there were striking differences.

“By having two groups that have low levels of Alzheimer’s markers, but striking cognitive differences and striking differences in their brain,” Dr Strange told the New York Times. “Then we’re really speaking to a resistance to age-related decline.”

A separate study conducted by Northwestern that backs up Dr Strange’s teams’ claims showed that super-agers possessed more youthful brains than their peers. Their brains resembled that of 50- or 60-year-olds’ brains rather than those of their fellow octogenarians. After checking on the brains of super-agers for a couple of years, the researchers found that their brains deteriorated less than the average person their age.

Lead Northwestern study researcher Dr Emily Rogalski - a professor of neurology at the University of Chicago - noted that super-agers are easy to identify in person. She said, “They are really quite energetic people, you can see. Motivated, on the ball, elderly individuals.”

Super-agers tended to exhibit better physical health, with healthier levels of blood pressure and higher metabolisms. They also excelled at a higher rate when completing mobility tests compared to their peers. They also had noticeably better mental health.

Dr Rogalski added that one pattern she noticed among super-agers was that they tended to have a strong sense of community as well as boast healthy social relationships. However, members of her team stressed that there were variations in diet, exercise, substance use, and more that warranted more research.

“In an ideal world, you’d find out that, like, all the super-agers, you know, ate six tomatoes every day and that was the key,” assistant researcher Tessa Harrison from UC Berkeley said. However, she noted that there must be “some sort of lucky predisposition or some resistance mechanism in the brain that’s on the molecular level that we don’t understand yet.”

Whether it’s more or less exercise, to eat a Mediterranean or a keto diet, scientists have not cracked the code, but they are closer than ever.

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