A new study by Northwestern Medicine researchers is beginning to reveal why the memories of SuperAgers, aged 80-years and above who have distinctly different looking brains than those of normal older people, do not suffer the usual ravages of time.
The study quantifies brain differences of SuperAgers and normal older people. Cognitive SuperAgers' unusual 'brain signature' has three common components when compared with normal people of similar ages. It has a thicker region of the cortex, significantly fewer tangles (a primary marker of Alzheimer's disease) and a whopping supply of a specific neuron, von Economo, linked to higher social intelligence.
Senior author Changiz Geula said, "The brains of the SuperAgers are either wired differently or have structural differences when compared to normal individuals of the same age, which may be one factor, such as expression of a specific gene or a combination of factors that offers protection."
The first study author Tamar Gefen said, "Identifying the factors that contribute to the SuperAgers' unusual memory capacity may allow them to offer strategies to help the growing population of normal elderly maintain their cognitive function and guide future therapies to treat certain dementias."
Geula added, "It's thought that these von Economo neurons, which are present in such species as whales, elephants, dolphins and higher apes, play a critical role in the rapid transmission of behaviorally relevant information related to social interactions, which is how they may relate to better memory capacity."
The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.