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SuperAgers and Alzheimer's

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 10, 2017

A new study has concluded that “SuperAgers” lose brain volume slower than their peers and are protected from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Learn more about how SuperAgers are challenging common aging stereotypes and giving researchers new insights into how the brain ages and is affected by dementia.

SuperAgers Resistant to Normal Rate of Cognitive Decline

A study published in JAMA entitled “Rates of Cortical Atrophy in Adults 80 Years and Older with Superior vs. Average Episodic Memory” was presented at the 2017 Cognitive Aging Summit in Bethesda, MD. The study, from Northwestern University, studied the effects of aging on SuperAgers. SuperAgers are defined as “people older than 80 with an episodic memory at least as good as that of the average middle-aged adult.”

While previous studies have found that SuperAgers have a thicker brain cortex than their peers, it was unclear if this was related to a larger brain from birth or lower rates of cognitive decline through age. To determine this, researchers recruited both SuperAgers and normally aging people and monitored their cognitive ability over time. They could find no differences between the groups when measuring episodic memory and category fluency, such as naming as many animals as possible. However, when researchers measured brain volume loss, it was clear that SuperAgers lost less brain volume than their normally aging peers. Normal aging adults lost 2.24% in total brain volume per year. SuperAgers lost, on average, only 1.06%.

Age Related Cognitive Decline Not Inevitable

Senior author Emily Rogalski says the study shows that SuperAgers are resistant to the rate of cognitive decline seen among their peers. “For this study we explored whether SuperAgers’ brains were on a different trajectory of decline. We found that SuperAgers are resistant to the normal rate of decline that we see in average elderly, and they’re managing to strike a balance between lifespan and health-span, really living well and enjoying their later years of life.”

Researchers hope that by evaluating the brains of healthy seniors, they can identify the biological factors and processes that protect people from developing dementia, rather than looking at the brains of people with the disease.

Amanda Cook, clinical neuropsychology doctoral student said, “Increasing age is often accompanied by ‘typical’ cognitive decline or, in some cases, more severe cognitive decline, called dementia. SuperAgers suggest that age-related cognitive decline is not inevitable.”

Do you know a SuperAger? Why do you think this group of seniors appears to be protected from normal cognitive decline? Share your thoughts and comments with us in the space below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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