All views expressed in this blog are solely the writer’s.
By Elsabé Brits
One of the most extensive observational studies so far of “super-agers” (people in their eighties with functions of people decades younger) shows they also move more quickly and have better mental health than typical older adults. They have lower rates of anxiety and depression, according to a study.
This study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity contains fascinating information about those people we admire. No wonder we say, “I want to be like him/her when I am old.”
MRI scans add to evidence that super-agers have more grey matter in key regions linked to memory function. No differences in biomarkers or genetic risk factors for neurodegenerative disease were detected between superagers and typical older adults, suggesting superagers are resistant to age-related processes that lead to memory decline.
While previous research has found differences in brain structure and certain lifestyle factors – such as stronger social connections – among super-agers compared with typical older adults, most studies have had small sample sizes and did not track changes over time. As a result, an in-depth understanding of demographic, lifestyle, or clinical factors that help to preserve memory function in old age is currently lacking.
To help address these knowledge gaps, the authors conducted one of the most extensive analyses of super-agers to date. The Vallecas Project cohort in Madrid is composed of people aged 69 to 86 years – 64 super-agers and 55 older adults – with no neurological or severe psychiatric disorders.
They were identified based on their performance in the Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT), which assesses people’s memory function. The superagers did at least as well as the average person around 30 years younger with the same education level. The older adults performed within a normal range for their age and education. Most superagers were women (59%), as were most typical older adults (64%).
Super-agers’ lifestyles in midlife were generally more active, they were satisfied with their sleep duration, and they were more likely to have a musical background – either taught or amateur – than typical older adults.
Health is also the result of complex interactions between genes and the environment, wherein the environment modulates genes that epigenetically affect their expression. The interplay between the genome and gene expression modulation also plays a crucial role in longevity.
Diet is receiving growing attention as a key driver of disease in the context of excessive assumption of unhealthy fats, refined sugar, and artificial food additives. For example, in some studies from low-income countries, a diet is considered healthy if it contains enough animal protein. In contrast, in studies from high-income countries, excessive consumption of protein from meat, fish, cheese, and eggs is often considered a risk factor.
This dichotomy is a stark reminder of how much socioeconomic well-being is still unbalanced across different geographic regions and of the great extent to which such disparities can have consequences on health outcomes, according to another paper in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.
However, the secret to healthy longevity is not only genetic and linked to a good lifestyle, but the brain is critically important. Superagers have resistance to the development of fibrous tangles in a brain region related to memory, which are known to be markers of Alzheimer’s disease.