Neuroscientists Reveal Secret of Superagers’ Excellent Memories

Neuroscientists Reveal Secret of Superagers' Excellent Memories

People who still have very sharp memory into old age—known as “superagers”—may get their impressive powers from certain areas of the brain being preserved.

Brain structures known as white matter usually decline in integrity with age, but in superagers, white matter remains structurally sound, according to a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience .

This may be the reason for superagers having the memory powers of people 30 years their junior, the researchers suggest.

The brain is made up of gray matter and white matter, with gray matter being found on the brain’s surface and white matter making up much of the deeper layers of the brain. Stock images show an older woman looking out of a window, main image, and a brain, inset. White matter in the brain may be the reason that some old people are “superagers.” White matter is made up largely of nerve fibers that are covered in a fatty substance called myelin, which helps to increase the speed and efficiency of electrical communication between neurons. The primary function of white matter is to connect different gray matter brain regions and transmit nerve signals quickly across the nervous system.


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White matter is essential for the coordination of various brain functions, from motor control to learning. Damage to the white matter can affect how the brain processes information and communicates with the rest of the body.

In the paper researchers from Spain’s Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and the Queen Sofia Foundation Alzheimer Centre studied the brain structure of older adults experiencing memory loss and those of superagers across a five-year period.

They discovered that superagers had better white matter microstructure than older people with declining memory.

“We studied the white matter structure of a large sample of 64 superagers over the age of 80 and 55 age-matched typical older adults during 5 years with yearly follow-ups showing evidence of slower age-related changes in the brains of superagers especially in protracted maturation tracts, indicating resistance to age related changes,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

Therefore, superagers may have white matter that is somehow resistant to being degraded with time, which helps them maintain their memory later in life.

“The better preservation of white matter microstructure in superagers relative to typical older adults supports resistance to age-related brain structural changes as a mechanism underpinning the remarkable memory capacity of superagers,” the researchers said.

They hope that these results may help scientists figure out if white matter can be protected to stem the tide of age-related memory loss and dementia.

“Understanding the superager phenotype can provide insights into mechanisms of protection against age-related memory loss and dementia ,” the researchers said.

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