Superagers Have Youthful Brain of a 25-year-old

Superagers Have Youthful Brain of a 25-year-old

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Highlights
  • Superagers were good at memory retention and  had good attention skills
  • The results of the study showed that superagers had a youthful brain that resembled that of a 25-year-old
  • The scientists state that vigorous physical exercise combines with intense mental workouts will help people become superagers.
Most people associate decline in memory as a normal sign of aging, however, some people are found to age better. A Research team from Massachusetts General Hospital studied 'superagers' to find out what made them so mentally agile.
Superagers Have Youthful Brain of a 25-year-old

People over 65 years of age are generally found to have poor memory but there are examples of a few others who can remember incidences and join new academic courses, sometimes even as old as 85 years. The vast difference between these two types of aging population triggered the interests of the authors who studied brain imaging patterns to find out what made the difference so significant.

Brain Imaging of 'Superagers'

About 17 superagers were selected for the study and their brain images were analyzed using functional magnetic resonance imaging. These images were compared with brain images of other people who were the same age as the group under study. It was found that there was a set of brain regions which could be used to distinguish between the two groups.

Certain regions of the brain were thinner among the 'normal' group of people, which occurred due to atrophy as a part of aging, while it remained thick in superagers. The thickness of these brain regions were on par with the thickness of people at a much younger age, making it seem like there has been no passage of time, as far as brain aging was concerned.

The crucial regions of the brain that remained the same even in old age was determined by the researchers who claim that even though most people would think that 'cognitive' regions of the brain would be the ones that are preserved, the study found that 'emotional' regions were the ones that were 'preserved'.

The scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital state that they were not surprised by this discovery as there were sufficient studies, which have dismissed the clear distinction between cognitive and emotional regions of the brain.

The Triune Brain

Dr. Paul MacLean was the one who first described this model of the brain where an ancient inner layer was believed to have been inherited from reptiles which contained the basic 'circuits' that were necessary for survival. The middle layer was believed to have been inherited form mammals and was called 'the limbic system' that contained circuits for emotions. The outermost layer was considered uniquely human and was responsible for rational thinking.

This model of the brain received a lot of attention from the media but rarely in the scientific circles. The research team that was probing superagers believe that the brain could not have developed like a sedimentary rock, with layers of brain cells being added over time. Instead they had certain regions of the brain that were re-organized as evolutionary changes were included. The regions of the brain that were considered purely emotional are now found to be very important for functions other than for emotions like communication, coordinating the various senses to provide an integrated experience.

The current research has found that these regions play an important role in superaging. It was found that the thicker the cortex regions are, the better the memory and attention, like recalling names 20minutes after reading a list.

How to Become a Superager?

The research showed that superagers had a thicker cortex and had better memory and they continue to study how to become a superager. The most important step to becoming a superager, according to the researchers, is to work hard at something.

Previous studies have shown that vital regions of the brain become more active when people carry out important tasks. These regions, therefore, should be kept active and thick by carrying out exercises along with intense mental analysis.

Activation of the region of the brain implicated in superaging comes with a price; people whose cortex remains thick even after aging would tend to feel frustrated or tired.

Pushing Past Effort for Benefit

The scientists believe that pushing yourself to work out math problems or even pushing yourself physically would aid in keeping the brain active. The moto of U.S marine corps who believe that pain is weakness leaving the body highlights the need to stay physically active, even though it could be physically exhausting, in order to gain both physically as well as mentally. 

To become a superager, an individual should push past the initial strain in order to benefit from maintaining a youthful brain. The studies conducted show that a more youthful brain was developed by the superagers and this resulted in a sharp memory and an ability to pay attention.

The crux of the study is that there should be the drive to push further ahead and not resort to pleasant mind puzzles like Sudoku. There should be a greater challenge that should be extremely exhaustive. In a bid to remain happy, people tend to move away from physical exertions or brain puzzles that are very tiring, choosing a simpler option. However, it is important to work through the initial discomfort or the pain, as in the end it would ensure a more youthful brain.

Reference:
  1. Youthful Brains in Older Adults: Preserved Neuroanatomy in the Default Mode and Salience Networks Contributes to Youthful Memory in Superaging - (http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/37/9659)
Source: Medindia

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