I would, normally, expect better from the people at “Cambridge Journals.”
However this write up sent me over the edge.
A group of 80-year-olds tested for brain and memory function have been found to possess the abilities of people decades younger.
There is NOTHING surprising about this. There is great variability in human populations and there are always people who are living at the far end of the distribution curve of any trait. Some people are, for example, very tall.
Researchers who studied the group have dubbed them ‘SuperAgers’ because of their brain’s ability to keep the aging process at bay. The research team say their findings prove that loss of our little grey cells is not necessarily an unavoidable part of aging. The results may have implications for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
“SuperAgers”— really? And this… “The research team say their findings prove that loss of our little grey cells is not necessarily an unavoidable part of aging.” I seriously doubt that the actual researchers said anything like this in the actual study. This is claptrap.
The study is reported in the current issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, published by Cambridge Journals on behalf of the International Neuropsychological Society.
Carried out in the US by a team from Northwestern University, Chicago, the project compared the brain thickness and memory ability of a group of 12 people in their early eighties with a separate group of their peers and with a group of 50-65 year olds.
The group of twelve SuperAgers were chosen from people who were still living active, healthy lives with no history of neurological or psychiatric problems. MRI scans of brain thickness were combined with memory tests to reveal which brains out of all of those studied were performing best.
This is called selection bias.
In a finding the researchers describe as ‘remarkable’, the SuperAgers emerged from the tests with brain power akin to those in the 50-65 age range and significantly better than their peers in their eighties.
There is a simple common understanding in the field of aging that explains this—the term is “pleiotropy.” Guess what, I can replicate this result with a wide variety of other physical and mental attributes. As we get older we are less and less like our peers in every way. Older people are a very diverse population and therefore it is easy to select a group of older people who, in some ways, resemble younger people.
The studies also showed that the brains of the SuperAgers had not atrophied (i.e. the outer layer had not thinned) as they had in their peers and that their brain thickness was actually better than those in the 50-65 age range. The SuperAger brain was found to be of superior thickness in one of the frontal regions of the brain thought to control decision-making, empathy and emotion.
What was their “brain thickness” thirty years ago? It is likely that this group had measurements that were greater than their peers at that time as well.
The research team say the SuperAgers had not had unusually good memories when younger and their level of education was also average with only four of the twelve having obtained a college degree.
Yes, but what about “brain thickness?”
It is not known if they were born with a brain that is thicker than the norm or whether their brains have simply resisted the ‘normal’ atrophying process. Researcher Emily Rogalski said the study shows that the definition of ‘normal’ aging will have to change:
In other words, the study proves nothing.
“These findings are remarkable given the assumption that losing our grey matter is a common part of normal aging. Our SuperAgers prove that keeping your memory and your brain’s thickness is a biological possibility. Now we just have to work out why it happens in some people and not others. Future studies of this phenomenon could help us discover how to prevent age-related memory loss and reduction in brain function and even lead to strategies for avoiding Alzheimer’s.”
It would be hilarious— if it wasn’t so sad.
For the full article and if you are a glutton for anti-aging mummery, please go to http://journals.cambridge.org/jinssuperagers.