‘Super aging’ refers to exceptionally high cognitive functionality, even when people turn 80 or 90 years old.
In a new study, researchers found a possible reason why these people can be dementia-free: their genes may help them fend off protein build-up in the brain.
The finding is based on a study of brain images of 94 participants, all aged 80 or older.
They were characterized by the amount of tau protein tangles and beta-amyloid protein plaques found in their brains.
The team found those who scored highest on memory tests—so-called ‘super agers’—had brain protein profiles similar to those of healthy folks who were much younger.
In other words, they had a very little build-up of tangles and plaques.
But those who were aging normally and scored lower on memory tests had more tangles than younger people.
And those who had already been diagnosed with mildly impaired thinking skills had a greater build-up of both tangles and plaques.
The research was conducted by a team at the University Hospital Cologne in Germany.
Abnormal build-up of both tau and plaques are considered a warning sign for impaired thinking, according to the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
But some older people seem to have little or no mental deterioration even into their 80s or 90s.
The team says super-agers seem to benefit from some sort of similarly protective dynamic.
In the study, they found that super-agers do not appear to accumulate aging-associated proteins, such as tau and amyloid pathology.
In contrast, normal agers did present tau pathology, arguing that this ‘proteinopathy’ may be part of the normal aging process.
The researchers think the answer probably lies in some combination of lifestyle choices and genetic predisposition.
On the genetic side, the new findings point to a need to explore the ‘molecular signature’ in the brains of individuals who are resistant to the build-up of age-related proteins.
That could lead to the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-associated illnesses.
One author of the study is Merle Hoenig.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.
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