Research gives clues to the good brains of very outdated folks

By Michelle Roberts
digital health writer

image fonts, Getty Images


A select group of people in their 80s and 90s retain exceptional cognitive powers

American scientists think they may be closer to understanding why some older people retain rare cognitive abilities comparable to those 30 years younger.

These elite “super aged” have larger nerve cells in brain regions responsible for memory, according to new research published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Octogenarians may have been born that way, or their neurons developed more or less with age than others.

More studies are needed, which could help explore new ways to fight dementia.

In particular, the researchers want to determine how changes in nerve cells might affect long-term brain health. Do they offer any protection in old age or are they simply a reflection of better brain health?


The main goal of Northwestern University in Illinois’s superaging research program — which has been ongoing for more than a decade — is to discover what keeps the brain cognitively sharp and protects people against dementia. .

Participants must be over 80, have an exceptional memory, be willing to undergo various checks and tests – and agree to donate their brains to medical science after death.

brain MRIimage fonts, Getty Images

Based on previous work using MRIs, researchers have now concluded that the brains of so-called super-elderly people look and function more like a 50-year-old’s than an 80-year-old’s.

The latest research – based on post-mortem examinations – focuses on a region of the brain known as the entorhinal cortex, which is involved in memory.

The researchers studied the brains of six super-aged octogenarians, seven “cognitively average” octogenarians, five people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and six younger donors who died of non-brain-related diseases.

They found that very old people had bigger, healthier neurons in this region of the brain than others.

They also appear less likely to accumulate abnormal protein deposits, known as tangles, normally seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Dr. Rosa Sancho of Alzheimer’s Research UK believes projects like the SuperAging program can help find and develop new treatments for dementia.

“More research will need to find out exactly what makes these super-aged brain cells bigger and more protected,” Sancho said.

“For example, is it a genetic trait that very old people are born with, and if so, what traits? »

She added: “As researchers work to understand how to stop the changes in the brain that cause dementia, there are small steps we can all take to keep our brains healthy as we age. »

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood, but several things are believed to increase the risk.

While some, such as age and genetics, are unavoidable, lifestyle factors such as abstaining from smoking, eating a healthier diet, and exercising can reduce the risk.

North West lead researcher Professor Tamar Gefen told the BBC she plans to take a detailed picture of super old people to find out more: “We need to study their genetics, their lifestyle factors and their level of education. We also need to understand its history. and personal stories. I was fortunate to know these inspiring people intimately in life and death.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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The article A study offers clues to the brilliant brains of super-elders first appeared in zimo news.

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