A recent study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal has found that individuals in their eighties, known as “superagers,” have exceptional memory function and lower rates of anxiety and depression compared to typical older adults. Superagers are able to recall everyday events and life experiences as well as someone 20 to 30 years younger. The study, conducted by researchers from the Queen Sofia Foundation Alzheimer Centre in Madrid, aimed to uncover whether superagers are truly resistant to age-related memory decline or if they possess coping mechanisms that help them overcome this decline better than their peers.
The study involved one of the largest analyses of superagers to date and included a cohort of 1,213 participants aged 69 to 86 years. Among this cohort, 64 superagers and 55 typical older adults were identified based on their performance in memory function tests. Superagers performed at least as well as individuals 30 years younger with similar education levels, while typical older adults performed within the normal range for their age group. The researchers tracked the participants over six annual follow-up visits, collecting data on demographic and lifestyle factors, conducting MRI scans to measure brain structure, and administering clinical tests.
The findings of the study revealed that superagers have more gray matter in key brain areas involved in memory and movement compared to typical older adults. The overall level of gray matter in these key areas also degenerated more slowly over five years in superagers. Machine learning analysis of the data identified faster movement speed and better mental health as the factors most commonly associated with superagers. Superagers demonstrated better mobility, agility, and balance, as measured by tests such as the Timed Up and Go Test and a finger tapping test. They also had lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to typical older adults.
The study also uncovered other self-reported differences between superagers and typical older adults. Superagers reported more active lifestyles in midlife, better sleep satisfaction, and a higher likelihood of having a musical background. They demonstrated greater independence in daily living and scored higher in intelligence tests. Blood sample analysis indicated that superagers have lower levels of biomarkers for neurodegeneration, and there were no differences based on the presence of a major genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
The authors of the study acknowledge certain limitations, such as the inability to determine the direct effects of the reported factors on superaging due to the study’s observational nature. The machine learning model used in the analysis was able to distinguish superagers from typical older adults only around 66% of the time, suggesting that additional factors, possibly genetic, may be associated with superaging.
Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the characteristics of superagers and their ability to maintain exceptional memory function and mental well-being in old age. Further research is needed to uncover the mechanisms behind superaging and identify additional factors that contribute to preserving memory function in older individuals. Understanding superaging may lead to new strategies for preventing age-related memory decline and promoting healthy aging.