How Is Your Brain? Will you be a Super Ager?

Super Agers are individuals who are in their 80’s or older who have the same cognitive abilities comparable to those in middle age.

Radiology image of the year was shown last summer 2020 at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) in New Orleans. Research with PET scans showed that compared with normal agers and those with mild cognitive decline, super agers have a lower burden of tau and amyloid pathology associated with neurodegeneration.

Tau (blue) and amyloid (orange) distribution in the brains of super agers, normal agers, and mild cognitive decline impaired patients. These images were created by a comparison to younger, cognitively normal patients.

Additionally, it has been recorded that super agers lose less brain volume as they age. Using MRI and measuring the cortex of the brain, super agers lose about 1.06 percent of brain volume per year where normally aging adults lose 2.24 percent per year.  This can lead to protection from dementia.

It is known that tau pathology is more closely associated with cognitive decline than amyloid pathology, but there is a definite lack of available imaging techniques for tau pathology. Super agers seem to be able to resist aging-associated proteinopathies, i.e. tau pathology, and therefore are not exposed to inevitable cognitive decline.  The motivation for further research for determining the responsible resistance factors may reveal innovative treatment options and therapeutics.

Super Agers Seem to Have Similar Habits

1. Super agers live an active lifestyle

  • Physical activity increases oxygen intake
  • Helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduces risks for falls

2. Super agers continue to exercise their brain

  • Mental activity is important
  • Engage the brain in new ways

3. Super agers have strong social skills

  • Attention region of brain has many neurons
  • Neurons are 4-5 times as many as others their age
  • Social butterflies and strong relationships

4. Super agers indulge

  • Moderation is key but enjoy finer points of dining and alcohol
  • Could be a fitness buff
  • Have hobbies and are involved in activities, i.e. volunteering or running a business

You are what you eat and although super agers do not have perfect diets, the combo of fresh fruits and veggies plus unprocessed foods with reduced sodium was prevalent. A good diet lowers the risk for inflammation and oxidative stress which are thought to be causes of chronic disease and poor health.

If we check around in Hollywood, we find a large group of super ager stars that are Generation X and, on their way, to being a super ager.  Think about J.Lo, Halle Berry, Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Aniston. These women are in the age group of middle 50’s and still have the body and mind that certainly seem 20 years younger.

Harvard Health, in one study, studied images of the super agers brains with MRI. They found that in the super agers the brain regions involved in emotion, language and stress had the same cortex layers as the younger people tested.  Super agers keep moving out of their comfort zones to gain new areas of expertise.

There are cognitive super agers and physical super agers, but the talents and habits show similar characteristics. We would all like to be a super ager and planning our changes to lifestyle might just put us in that category.


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