What makes the brains of some older people better

Many research studies regarding dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease involve looking at the brains of people who already show signs of mental decline, but today let’s look at a study where researchers only studied individuals who remained remarkably young as far as brain functioning was involved (called “Super Agers”).

The researchers were trying to learn why these people—all of whom were in their 80s and 90s—had memory functioning better than many people in their 50s.

The neuroscientists, from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Medical School asked for volunteers who were at least 80 years, and who felt they still had excellent brains, and put them through a battery of mental tests. Of the initial 400 who applied, they accepted only the top performing 35 into their study.

They agreed to frequent memory tests, special brain x-rays, and also that they would donate their brains for microscopic study after their deaths. While the study is ongoing, here are some of their findings so far:

1. The Super Agers have much less fibrous tissue called “tau tangles” in their brains, which are strands of protein that basically choke off and eventually kill brain cells.

2. The Super Agers’ brains had a thicker cortex, which is the outer surface layer of the brain;

Regarding the behavior of the Super Agers:

3. They typically had much more energy than others their age;

4. They had a more positive, inquisitive outlook on life. However the researchers were not sure which came first, meaning: did this energy and positive outlook help contribute to their good brains, or were they more energetic and positive because they had better brains to begin with?

Ninety-two year old Edith Stern, a survivor of the Holocaust who lost most of her family during those years, is one example of a Super Ager. She volunteers helping other residents in her retirement home, working in the gift shop, and helping to watch over other residents, many younger. She says:

What I couldn’t do for my parents, I try to do for the residents in the home. When you get old, people are mainly interested in themselves. They talk about the doctor, what hurts. You are not so important that you just concentrate on yourself. You have to think about other people.

I am young — inside. And I think that’s the difference.

Northwestern researchers are trying to find out how we can minimize the amount of tau protein tangles in our brains, but in the meantime, as we all get older, if we can help others by volunteering, keep a positive attitude, and simply “think young”, we probably are helping ours brains stay young too.

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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)