What can we learn from Superagers about How to age well?

A groundbreaking research conducted by the Center for Biomedical Technology at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain, has delved into the fascinating world of “superagers” and their exceptional cognitive abilities in comparison to typical older adults. The study, titled “Brain structure and phenotypic profile of superagers compared with age-matched older adults: a longitudinal analysis from the Vallecas Project,” was published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity and has sparked interest in the scientific community.

One of the most vulnerable aspects of cognitive function with age is episodic memory, the recollection of personal life experiences. Neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, often result in a significant decline in episodic memory.

However, superagers defy the typical memory decline associated with aging. These older adults maintain their episodic memory at a level comparable to individuals who are 20 to 30 years younger and seem to resist the usual cognitive challenges that come with age. The researchers aimed to uncover the structural brain signatures and other factors that contribute to this extraordinary resilience.

To conduct their investigation, the researchers used data from the Vallecas Project, a longitudinal study involving community-dwelling individuals aged 70 to 85 years without neurological or psychiatric disorders. Among this group, they identified a subset of superagers, who were aged 80 years or older and had episodic memory on par with much younger healthy individuals.

Comparing the superagers (n=64, mean age 81.9 years) with a control group of typical older adults (n=55, mean age 82.4) who had regular memory function, the researchers performed various assessments, including neuropsychological and clinical evaluations, MRI scans, and blood sample collections.

Interestingly, the risk factors for non-familial Alzheimer's disease and blood biomarkers of dementia showed no differences between the superagers and the control group. This suggested that the superagers were not at different stages of a dementia-related process.

Lifestyle factors played a crucial role in differentiating superagers from typical older adults. Elements like physical activity, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status were closely associated with the superaging phenotype, which aligns with their potential for preventing or delaying age-related dementia. Surprisingly, having a musical background and being separated or divorced, rather than married or cohabiting, were also linked to superagers.

The researchers observed physiologically significant differences between the two groups. Superagers exhibited larger hippocampal volumes, thicker anterior cingulate cortices, and less cortical atrophy compared to typical older adults. Their brain structures showed more preservation in memory-related areas and cholinergic , indicating resistance to the usual memory decline.

Furthermore, movement speed proved to be a significant factor in better memory performance. Superagers demonstrated faster movement speeds in walking and finger tapping tests compared to the control group. Additionally, the mental health cues indicated better overall mental well-being for superagers in terms of anxious state, anxious trait, and geriatric depression scale when compared to typical older adults.

Although the study provides invaluable insights into the superaging , more research is needed to delve into potential mechanisms that promote this unique cognitive state. Additionally, further investigations are required to establish any causal relationship between lifestyle and late-life cognition. The current findings offer promising avenues for exploring ways to enhance cognitive health and unlock the secrets of successful aging.

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