Memory loss may not be an inevitable part of ageing after all.
Memory loss may not be an inevitable part of ageing after all.

‘Super agers’ brains look decades younger

MEMORY loss and muddled thinking may not be the inevitable part of ageing that we all expect after all.

A study by an American hospital has found that a remarkable group of "super agers" have managed avoid age-related memory loss and instead retain youthful thinking abilities and the brain circuits that match their much younger peers.

The study by the Massachusetts General Hospital, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, focused on a group of 40 adults aged between 60 and 80 - 17 of whom performed as well on memory tests as adults four to five decades younger, and 23 with normal results for their age group.

The study also included 41 young adults, aged 18 to 35.

"Previous research on super aging has compared people over age 85 to those who are middle aged," said co-senior author Alexandra Touroutoglou.

"Our study is exciting because we focused on people around or just after typical retirement age - mostly in their 60s and 70s - and investigated those who could remember as well as people in their 20s."

Imaging studies showed that these super agers had brains with youthful characteristics.

Certain parts of the brain, such as the cortex - the outermost layer that is critical for many thinking abilities - typically shrink with age.

"We looked at a set of brain areas known as the default mode network, which has been associated with the ability to learn and remember new information, and found that those areas, particularly the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex, were thicker in super agers than in other older adults," Touroutoglou said.

"In some cases, there was no difference in thickness between super agers and young adults."

Barrett, who is also University Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University, added: "We also examined a group of regions known as the salience network, which is involved in identifying information that is important and needs attention for specific situations, and found preserved thickness among super-agers in several regions, including the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex."

The study also found that the size of these brain networks among the super agers correlated with their memory skills.

"We believe that effective communication between these networks is very important for healthy cognitive aging," said Touroutoglou.

"We desperately need to understand how some older adults are able to function very well into their seventh, eight, and ninth decades.

"This could provide important clues about how to prevent the decline in memory and thinking that accompanies aging in most of us."

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