Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Irvine, CA, United States (4E) – Talk about longevity. Children born in the United States today are expected to live to be 103 years-old, on average. As a consequence, the U.S. will have 8 to 10 million people age 90 and older.
Unfortunately, these long-lived Americans will also become prey to maladies that afflict the elderly such as dementia. Today, some two-thirds of the elderly over age 90 have dementia or some less severe cognitive loss.
But, “there’s a remarkable core of individuals we see who maintain excellent cognitive skills and often motor skills,” said Dr. Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology and associate director of the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders at the University of California, Irvine.
Dr. Kawas is also the lead investigator of “The 90+ Study,” which tested and tracked subjects for the past 15 years to find differences in their brains and lifestyles that might be responsible for the existence of “a remarkable core of individuals we see who maintain excellent cognitive skills and often motor skills” well into old age.
One of the study’s most interesting findings is that when her team began autopsying the brains of those who were aging well and exhibiting no signs of dementia, about 40 percent had “full-fledged” Alzheimer’s Disease. “The question then became “Why are they still thinking well?” asked Kawas.
Dr Kawas said the answer is probably a combination of being resilient to Alzheimer’s Disease and that these people didn’t develop other dementia-causing conditions that causes neuron loss. Alzheimer’s and microscopic infarctions that occur when blood flow is blocked from certain regions of the brain and hippocampal sclerosis almost guarantee dementia.
Another study focused on “super-agers,” or those 80 years or older that have memory performance as good as people in their 50s or 60s. The brains of the super-agers showed less cortical thinning, or neuron loss in certain areas. Incredibly, the brains of super-agers were physically more similar to the brains of people aged 50-60 than their 80-year-old peers.
Super-agers had also developed increased thickness in an area of the brain associated with decision-making, impulse control and emotions and other functions that was not found in the brains of their peers or of healthy younger people.
Lifestyle surveys showed super-agers also were more likely to report valuing close, meaningful relationships with people in their lives.
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