POSTED JULY 05, 2017, 10:30 AM
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch
The science of super brains
What makes super-agers’ brains so super? A small study published in The Journal of Neuroscience looked at this question. Researchers enrolled 44 adults ages 60 to 80 and found that those who performed well on memory tests had brains with youthful characteristics. Specifically, the cortexes of their brains — the outermost layer of brain cells essential to many thinking abilities — were comparable in size to those of the younger adults in a control group. Scans found that the brain regions associated with the ability to learn and remember new information — which include the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex — were larger in super-agers than in normal older adults.
Lead researcher Dr. Bradford Dickerson, associate professor of neurology at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, said that one of the most surprising findings was that the size of the super-agers’ brains did not fall somewhere between the younger people and the other older adults. “Their brain size was close to equal to that of the younger subjects, which suggests that the brain size was preserved,” he says.
Wouldn’t you like to be a super-ager too?
Are super-agers born or made? Probably a little of both, says Dr. Dickerson. “There may be a genetic component that makes them more resilient to natural aging, but it also may be associated with lifestyle habits,” he says.
So, can you become a super-ager? While you may not be able to transport your brain back to your 20s, it may be possible to maintain and even improve some cognitive function with a combined approach to treatment, says Dr. Dickerson. For example: