A recent Northwestern University study has revealed more about why some seniors have higher memory function than their peers. The study found that SuperAgers (defined as “people older than 80 with an episodic memory at least as good as that of the average middle-aged adult”) have a thicker brain cortex than their peers, resulting in higher memory function. These findings open the door to further research on brain function in seniors, especially those at risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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The Northwestern paper’s senior author, Emily Rogalski, stated that MRI studies revealed a decrease in thickness of the cortex of 1.06 percent in the SuperAgers, compared with 2.24 percent for the control group. Age-related cortical atrophy is considered normal and plays a role in the decrease of cognitive function with age. By studying the brains of SuperAgers, scientists hope to uncover other biological factors that might aid in the preservation of memory among other seniors.
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Research conducted by Lisa Feldman Barrett at Harvard University in 2016 found that SuperAgers tended to push past their comfort zones in intellectual as well as physical pursuits. This approach to life can have a positive impact on the executive functions performed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex. MRI imaging supported Barrett’s assertion that a senior’s need for achievement can bolster the regions of his or her brain that help maintain cognitive abilities, such as the midcingulate cortex and the anterior insula.
The data in both studies explain why the brains of SuperAgers are capable of higher functioning than those of their peers. The conclusions bolster the hypothesis that there may be ways for seniors who are not SuperAgers to take preventative measures. These studies also provide tools for caregivers to use in their daily interactions with seniors who have dementia.
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