Octogenarians with razor-sharp memories move faster than their peers, a new study suggests.
Older people who can recall everyday events and life experiences as if they were 20 or 30 years younger are known as “super agers” and they typically get around much faster than their peers.
Among those who have defied the normal trajectory of memory decline with age, researchers found lower rates of anxiety and depression, greater independence, and higher grades on intelligence tests.
“In one of the largest studies of its kind, the Queen Sofia Foundation Alzheimer Centre in Madrid, Spain discovered super agers were more likely to have a musical background than other older adults,” said the researchers.
Moreover, blood sample analysis indicates super agers have fewer neurodegenerative biomarkers than their counterparts.
The team picked participants who performed at least as well as the average person around 30 years younger with the same education level.
Super agers performed better in the finger tapping mobility exam Timed Up and Go, scoring better than typical older adults in mobility, agility and balance.
Medics noted super agers are less depressed and anxious, and added these symptoms can impair memory performance and propel the chance of developing dementia.
The fast-thinking group self-reported leading a more active lifestyle and feeling happier with their sleep patterns.
Meanwhile, a machine learning computer model applied to the cohort highlighted super agers move faster and have better mental health.
In line with previous studies, MRI scans revealed the group has more gray matter in the brain regions involved in memory and movement. Overall, the gray matter was found to degenerate at a slower pace over five years than their counterparts.
“We are now closer to solving one of the biggest unanswered questions about super agers: whether they are truly resistant to age-related memory decline or they have coping mechanisms that help them overcome this decline better than their peers,” said Marta Garo-Pascual of the Queen Sofia Foundation Alzheimer Centre.
“Our findings suggest super agers are resistant to these processes, though the precise reasons for this are still unclear.
“By looking further into links between super aging and movement speed we may be able to gain important insights into the mechanisms behind the preservation of memory function deep into old age.”
Previous research found super agers generally have stronger social connections.
However, the scientists, writing in Lancet, warned these studies often have small sample sizes and do not track changes over time, leaving the world lacking an in-depth understanding of demographic, lifestyle, or clinical factors that may help preserve memory function.
The team studied 64 super agers and 55 typical older adults aged between 69 and 86, with no neurological or severe psychiatric disorders.
The former were spotted based on a memory test and around 59 percent were women, while 64 percent of the typical older adult group were female.
Participants were given six annual follow-up visits to record demographic and lifestyle factors.
MRI scans were conducted to measure gray matter volume too, alongside a range of clinical tests including blood sample tests to screen for neurodegenerative disease biomarkers that could put them at risk of Alzheimer’s.
A machine learning computer model, testing 89 demographic, lifestyle, and clinical predictors, were used to recognize factors linked with super aging.
“Though super agers report similar activity levels to typical older people, it’s possible they do more physically demanding activities like gardening or stair climbing,” said Senior author Dr. Bryan Strange, of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.
“We have shown before that when young adults make movements at the same time as seeing pictures, they are more likely to later remember the picture than if they don’t move.
“It’s also possible that having better brain health in the first place may be what’s responsible for super agers having faster movement speed.”
“Further research in these areas may ultimately reveal ways to help preserve memory function in more older people.
“What we have, however, discovered is that there is an overlap between risk or protective factors for dementia and those associated with super aging (such as blood pressure, glucose control and mental health).
“This raises a possibility that some putative risk factors for dementia are, in fact, contributing to age-related decline in memory-related brain activity that may act in parallel or additively with dementia pathophysiology to amplify memory impairment,” said the researchers.
The experts warned the machine learning model could only identify super agers versus regular adults around 66 percent of the time.
They added this indicates additional factors are linked with super aging, and these may be genetic.
The team said further research comparing super aging genes with elderly fast muscle-movement genes could help narrow the search.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Bhujaya Ray Chowdhury and Judy J. Rotich