Who Are the SuperAgers?

Superager!/ Alberto Ruggieri Collection: Illustration Works /Getty Images.

The Research

Research recently published by the Journal of Neuroscience that was conducted at Northwestern University points out an interesting fact: there are some people out there who are older than 80 years old who don't experience the typical, gradual cognitive decline that's expected as people age.

Their name? The SuperAgers.

    Researchers were intrigued about why the memory of some people remains largely intact as compared to others who gradually experience age-related cognitive decline.

    Thus, they identified 31 community-dwelling (not in a facility) SuperAgers and compared them to 18 people who were only 50-65 years old, as well as 21 people over the age of 80 with expected and normal cognitive functioning for their age.

    To locate these Superagers, multiple cognitive tests were administered, including the Boston Naming test, the Trail-Making test, verbal fluency test and the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test. To qualify as a SuperAger, the person had to perform as well as, or better than, people who were in their 50s and 60s on these tests.

    Participants (which included the SuperAgers, those who were between the age of 50-65 and those with expected cognition over the age of 80) also underwent brain imaging to view and measure different parts of their brains.

    Researchers also used measurements and research from brain specimens from Northwestern Univeristy's Brain Bank to compare data.

    The Results

    Researchers compared their results and noted the following:

    • The brains of SuperAgers had a lower amount of neurofibrillary tangles which are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
    • The thickness of the anterior cingulate cortex (an area in frontal lobe of the brain) was the greatest in SuperAgers. (It would be expected to thin as people age.)
    • There was a lower amount of amyloid plaque buildup in the brains of SuperAgers, another hallmark of Alzheimer's.
    • Previous research also demonstrated less cerebral atrophy in SuperAgers.

    What's Next?

    The study's authors conclude with this statement:  "These features of the SuperAger biological signature may provide a foundation for future exploration of the factors that promote resistance to age-related involutional phenomena" (Journal of Neuroscience.28 January 2015, 35(4): 1781-1791).

    In English, please? Identifying specific qualities in SuperAgers, such as structures in their brain that resist typical changes in aging, can identify areas for future research with the goal of improving brain health and moving toward preventing age-related cognitive decline.

    Journal of Neuroscience.28 January 2015, 35(4): 1781-1791. Morphometric and Histologic Substrates of Cingulate Integrity in Elders with Exceptional Memory Capacity. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/4/1781.short?sid=52d3d334-df75-4b7a-8165-f607ce8d2455

    Continue Reading