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The brains of SuperAgers (those 80 years old and older whose memories are as sharp as healthy people in their 50s and 60s) shrink much slower than their age-matched peers, resulting in a greater resistance to ‘typical’ memory loss and dementia, a new path-breaking study that shows.

This is a MRI scan of a SuperAger’s brain. The portion between the yellow and red lines is the cortex, which contains neurons. SuperAgers’ cortices shrunk over two times slower than average-age peers’ in a recent Northwestern Medicine study, which may contribute to their superior memory performance.

Credit: Northwestern University

The highly engaged and delightful conversationalist, who reads, volunteers and routinely researches questions on the Internet, is part of a new path-breaking Northwestern Medicine study that shows that SuperAgers’ brains shrink much slower than their age-matched peers, resulting in a greater resistance to “typical” memory loss and dementia.

Over the course of the 18-month study, normal agers lost volume in the cortex twice as fast as SuperAgers, a rare group of people aged 80 and above whose memories are as sharp as those of healthy persons decades younger.

“Increasing age is often accompanied by ‘typical’ cognitive decline or, in some cases, more severe cognitive decline called dementia,” said first author Amanda Cook, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral student in the laboratory of Emily Rogalski and Sandra Weintraub. “SuperAgers suggest that age-related cognitive decline is not inevitable.”The study was published in JAMA. Senior author Emily Rogalski will present the findings at the 2017 Cognitive Aging Summit in Bethesda, Maryland, April 6.SuperAger research at Northwestern is flipping the traditional approach to Alzheimer’s research of focusing on brains that are underperforming to instead focusing on outperforming brains.

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