Mental Health

Memory Loss With Age Is Not Inevitable: Brain Scans Of 'Super Agers' Shed Light On Memory Retention

Memory loss is often thought to be a normal part of the aging process, but some elderly individuals are able to maintain memory performance on par with people half their age. A recent study on this group of “super agers” may reveal the key to their superb memory.

Imaging studies revealed that the brains of super agers had many youthful characteristics, and although areas of the brain associated with thinking and memory normally shrink with age, the brains of super agers were still the same size as younger adults. The researchers showed not only that super agers had no brain shrinkage, but also that the size of these regions was correlated with memory ability. For example, one of the strongest correlations between brain size and memory was found in an area at the para-midcingulate cortex, an important hub that allows different brain networks to communicate efficiently.

man The brains of some elderly individuals never shrink with age. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

"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,” explained co-senior author Alexandra Touroutoglou, Medical Xpress reported. “In some cases, there was no difference in thickness between super agers and young adults.”

In order to obtain this data, the team studied the brain scans of two groups: adults ages 60 to 80, including 17 who performed as well as adults four to five decades younger on memory tests; 23 with normal results for their age group; and 41 young adults ages 18 to 35.

It’s still not clear exactly how the brains of super agers are protected against memory decline, but the researchers believe that understanding these factors may play a role in important advances in preventing and treating age-related memory loss, and possibly even some forms of dementia.

Source: Dickerson B, Feldman B, Touroutoglou A, et al. The Journal of Neuroscience . 2016

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