Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Long & Cognitive Life: The SuperAgers

Long Life

Making Sandwiches: Don Tenbrunsel, 85, volunteers at a soup kitchen at St. Josaphat’s Church
in Chicago. Tenbrunsel is among the handful of super agers participating in a study of individuals
in their 80s and 90s with sharp memories now being conducted at Northwestern University.
Photo Credit: M. Spencer Green; AP; 2013
Source: AP

An AP article, by Lindsey Tanner, published in The Washington Post says researchers are looking at a small cohort of individuals who retain their sharp mental abilities well into their 90s; they are referred to as super agers.

Tanner writes:
They’re called “super agers” — men and women who are in their 80s and 90s, but with brains and memories that seem far younger. Researchers are looking at this rare group in the hope that they may find ways to help protect others from memory loss. And they’ve had some tantalizing findings: Imaging tests have found unusually low amounts of age-related plaques along with more brain mass related to attention and memory in these elite seniors.
“We’re living long but we’re not necessarily living well in our older years and so we hope that the SuperAging study can find factors that are modifiable and that we’ll be able to use those to help people live long and live well,” said study leader Emily Rogalski, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University’s cognitive neurology and Alzheimer’s disease center in Chicago.
The study is still seeking volunteers, but chances are you don’t qualify: Fewer than 10 percent of would-be participants have met study criteria. “We’ve screened over 400 people at this point and only about 35 of them have been eligible for this study, so it really represents a rare portion of the population,” Rogalski said.They include an octogenarian attorney, a 96-year-old retired neuroscientist, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor and an 81-year-old pack-a-day smoker who drinks a nightly martini.
The only common thing shared by these super agers might be good genetics, where their brains have not deteriorated as fast as the general population. Good health in old age is relatively rare, and so it might explain the positive attitude. Or it might be the other way around, that their positive attitude, and any and all personal victories over adversity, might have had a beneficial effect on the brain.

I suspect that it’s not only a matter of genetics, namely, on how our brains are hard-wired, but a combination of important genetic and environmental factors (including our mental attitude) that all contribute to how we age and how we live. In other words, as mature adults we are far past the stage where we can influence how our brains form their neural connections, the complex inner workings; we can, however, control, to some degree, how we view our lives and our place in the world.

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You can read the rest of the article at [WashPost]