As you've likely observed at high school and college reunions, the aging process affects us all a little differently. Some go gray early, others accrue wrinkles more rapidly and for a select, lucky few their metabolism rate never seems to slow down. Turns out our brains may also age at significantly different rates, according to preliminary research presented at the 2011 Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington D.C. this week.
As the Observations blog reports, high-performing octogenarians, dubbed "super agers," may have aged physically but certain regions of their brains have an unusually youthful appearance. In the study researchers compared magnetic resonance imaging scans of 48 octogenarians in the Northwestern University Super Aging Project with subjects in their fifties and sixties and cognitively average individuals in their 80s. Sandra Upson writes:
The super agers appeared to have a much thicker left anterior cingulate cortex than both comparison groups. The anterior cingulate cortex is generally known for its role in error detection, attention, and motivation, but its role in maintaining cognition in elderly individuals remains unexplored.
Researchers are still compiling and analyzing the data but so far super agers' lifestyles seem to hint that the their high-functioning cognitive abilities may have genetic rather than environmental roots:
At least superficially, they appear to be nothing alike one another beyond possessing the memory of an individual two or three decades younger. According to [Theresa Harrison, who presented the findings], one participant wears high heels every day, drinks whiskey each night, has outlived four husbands--and survived the Holocaust. Another octogenarian spent her life as a soft-spoken housewife, contracted cancer, and went through chemotherapy. Some super agers never graduated from high school, others are highly accomplished academics. Certain participants have smoked for most of their lives; at least one has stuck to a longtime diet of organic food. Some participants are on more than a dozen medications while others are taking none.
Previously: The secret to living longer? It's all in the 'tude, Healthy aging the focus of Stanford study, Researchers identify "genetic signatures" of longevity and Researchers aim to extend how long - and how well - we live
Photo by Richard Wood