Memory performance typically declines with age, as does cortical structural integrity, yet some older adults maintain youthful memory. We tested the hypothesis that superagers (older individuals with youthful memory performance) would exhibit preserved neuroanatomy in key brain networks subserving memory. We found that superagers not only perform similarly to young adults on memory testing, they also do not show the typical patterns of brain atrophy in certain regions. These regions are contained largely within two major intrinsic brain networks: the default mode network, implicated in memory encoding, storage, and retrieval, and the salience network, associated with attention and executive processes involved in encoding and retrieval. Preserved neuroanatomical integrity in these networks is associated with better memory performance among older adults.
Can you make a person a super ager or are you born with it, and does it really make a difference in real life? A superager is someone who is in their 60-80s with minds as sharp as when they were twenty.
As we age beyond our 50s, our brains tend to shrink in volume. Memory also begins to decline.
These widespread brain changes are considered entirely normal, but mounting evidence suggests they may not be universal.
Certainly in Alzheimer’s disease, for example, there is notable shrinkage in parts of the brain involved with storing and retrieving memories.
In 17 “super agers”, several parts of the brain’s memory machinery – including the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex and the hippocampus – appeared thicker and healthier than normal for people of their age.
The hope is there might be not just genetic factors that make people resilient but also things that people can do themselves, such as physical fitness and diet. Experts already know that certain factors, such as smoking and high cholesterol, age the brain faster.
Decline in cognitive skills, especially in memory, is often viewed as part of “normal” aging. Yet some individuals “age better” than others. Building on prior research showing that cortical thickness in one brain region, the anterior midcingulate cortex, is preserved in older adults with memory performance abilities equal to or better than those of people 20–30 years younger (i.e., “superagers”), we examined the structural integrity of two large-scale intrinsic brain networks in superaging: the default mode network, typically engaged during memory encoding and retrieval tasks, and the salience network, typically engaged during attention, motivation, and executive function tasks. We predicted that superagers would have preserved cortical thickness in critical nodes in these networks. We defined superagers (60–80 years old) based on their performance compared to young adults (18–32 years old) on the California Verbal Learning Test Long Delay Free Recall test. We found regions within the networks of interest where the cerebral cortex of superagers was thicker than that of typical older adults, and where superagers were anatomically indistinguishable from young adults; hippocampal volume was also preserved in superagers. Within the full group of older adults, thickness of a number of regions, including the anterior temporal cortex, rostral medial prefrontal cortex, and anterior midcingulate cortex, correlated with memory performance, as did the volume of the hippocampus. These results indicate older adults with youthful memory abilities have youthful brain regions in key paralimbic and limbic nodes of the default mode and salience networks that support attentional, executive, and mnemonic processes subserving memory function.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.