Pavilion Health Today
Supporting healthcare professionals to deliver the best patient care

‘Super-agers’ resistant to age-related memory decline

Super-agers (i.e. those who can recall everyday events and life experiences as well as someone 20 to 30 years younger) move more quickly and have better mental health than typical older adults, according to a new study.

Super-agers (i.e. those who can recall everyday events and life experiences as well as someone 20 to 30 years younger) move more quickly and have better mental health than typical older adults, according to a new study.

The research, which is published in the The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal, looked at whether older people with better memory function are resistant to age-related memory decline, or whether they have coping mechanisms that help them overcome this decline.

The researchers found no difference in biomarkers or genetic risk factors for neurodegenerative disease detected in super-agers vs typical older adults, suggesting super-agers are resistant to age-related processes that lead to memory decline.

One of the largest studies to date to assess super-agers

The study is one of the largest to date of super-agers. The results also differ from previous research, which has found differences in brain structure and certain lifestyle factors – such as stronger social connections – among super-agers compared with typical older adults.

However, these studies had smaller sample sizes and did not track changes over time. As a result, in-depth understanding of demographic, lifestyle, or clinical factors that help to preserve memory function into old age is currently lacking.

The authors therefore set out to address these gaps by analysing a large cohort of older people participating in the Vallecas Project – a study designed to help identify early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.

Super-agers perform similarly on cognitive test to those 30 years younger

Of the 1,213 participants aged 69 to 86, 64 super-agers and 55 typical older adults, performing well on several cognitive tasks but not displaying super-ager memory ability, were identified and included in the new study.

All the adults participating in the new study were asked to complete the Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT), which assesses people’s memory function.

Super-agers did at least as well as the average person around 30 years younger with the same education level, while the typical adults performed within a normal range for their age and education.

All typical super-agers and normal older adults were 79.5 years or older. Most super-agers were women (38/64, 59%), as were most typical older adults (35/55, 64%).

Follow-up visits were used to assess demographic and lifestyle factors

The researchers also performed several tests alongside the FCSRT to analyse confounding factors that may affect cognition scores. This included:

  • Six annual follow-up visits, during which demographic and lifestyle factors were recorded
  • MRI scans to measure grey matter volume
  • Blood samples to screen for biomarkers for neurodegenerative disease and a key genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease
  • The Timed Up and Go Test to gauge mobility
  • Clinical assessments for depression and anxiety.

A machine learning computer model including 89 demographic, lifestyle, and clinical predictors was also used to identify factors associated with super-agers.

The study found that, compared to typical older adults, super-agers:

  • Had more grey matter in key brain areas involved in memory and brain function
  • Had faster movement speed
  • Had lower levels of biomarkers for neurodegeneration
  • Performed better in the Timed Up and Go Test (despite there being no difference in self-reported exercise levels)
  • Scored lower for levels of anxiety and depression
  • Scored highly on intelligence tests.

Super-agers were also more likely to be more active, have greater levels of independence, get a good amount of sleep and have a musical background.

Super-agers may do more physically demanding activities

Senior author Dr Bryan Strange, of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, said the results suggest that super-agers may be more physically active than typical older adults, despite self-reporting similar exercise levels.

“Though super-agers report similar activity levels to typical older people, it’s possible they do more physically demanding activities like gardening or stair climbing. From lower blood pressure and obesity levels to increased blood flow to the brain, there are many direct and indirect benefits of being physically active that may contribute to improved cognitive abilities in old age.

“We have shown before that when young adults make movements at the same time as seeing pictures, they are more likely to later remember the picture than if they don’t move. It’s also possible that having better brain health in the first place may be what’s responsible for super-agers having faster movement speed,” he said.

Dr Strange says further research is now needed to discover whether certain lifestyle measures preserve memory function in older people.

“What we have discovered is that there is an overlap between risk or protective factors for dementia and those associated with super-ageing (such as blood pressure, glucose control and mental health).

“This raises a possibility that some putative risk factors for dementia are, in fact, contributing to age-related decline in memory-related brain activity that may act in parallel or additively with dementia pathophysiology to amplify memory impairment,” he said.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read more ...

Privacy & Cookies Policy