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SuperAgers Under Study – What Can We Learn About These Exceptional Seniors?

March 5, 2015 by Ethan Hawkes

Some of us age more gracefully than others in not just physical appearance, but mentally as well.

“Superagers” are people who are above the age of 80, but can recall memories better and clearer than those decades younger. Researchers have recently started taking a look at the brains of superagers and trying to find out what separates them from the rest.

Turns out superagers possess brains with a thicker region of the cortex, far fewer tangles of tau proteins (the tangles are a feature of Alzheimer’s disease) and more von Economo neurons, which is linked to a higher level of social intelligence than their same-aged counterparts.

“It’s thought that these von Economo neurons play a critical role in the rapid transmission of behaviorally relevant information related to social interactions, which is how they may relate to better memory capacity,” Changiz Geula, study senior author and a research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University, said in a release by the university.

The study, which was published Jan. 28 in The Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to scan the brain differences between superagers and normal seniors. Other studies focus on those who have cognitive problems and not those who excel at using their brain.

The Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center has a new National Institutes of Health grant to continue the research on superagers.

“Identifying the factors that contribute to the superagers’ unusual memory capacity may allow us to offer strategies to help the growing population of ‘normal’ elderly maintain their cognitive function and guide future therapies to treat certain dementias,” first study author Tamar Gefen, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral candidate, said in the news release.

Superagers were identified for the first time in 2007 at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

While there is no known way to become a superager as of yet, there are a few tips for keeping your brain healthy as you age. Exercise, yes physical exercise, is actually one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy. Exercise increases the amount of oxygen flowing to your brain, which is important to proper brain operation. Other ways to keep your brain healthy is by reducing stress, adding some logic mental activities/games in your life to keep your brain engaged and eating well.
Tags: Alzheimer’s, Brains, Cognitive Neurology, dementias, memory capacity, seniors, Superagers
About Ethan Hawkes

About the Author
Ethan is a freelance multimedia journalist who graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2014. His hobbies include nerding out on video games and movies and attempting to integrate healthy choices into his life. Currently, he is getting into cooking, but still manages to forget a hotdog on the grill.

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