The distinct psychophysiology of ‘SuperAger’ brains
The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Mesulam Center of Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease is collecting data for their ‘SuperAging Research Program’.
Data collected from ‘SuperAgers’ has been used to provide insights into how the brains of these adults compare to those of generally healthy adults and those afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
What is a ‘SuperAger’?
The researchers at Northwestern define a ‘SuperAger’ as an adult over the age of 80 with a superior memory capacity that resembles that of middle aged adults. To be considered a ‘SuperAger’ the individual must show an ability to recall everyday events and previous personal experiences better than typical adults in their 50s and 60s.
The ‘SuperAger’ brain.
Through the study of the brains of ‘SuperAgers’, researchers gain a better understanding of how different aging processes are reflected in the brain. Furthermore, researchers believe the data from the study will have a tremendous impact on understanding the mechanisms responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
While living, the ‘SuoerAgers’ participating in the study provide blood work, and have MRI and PET scans done on their brain. They also donate their brains to the research study when they pass.
Already, the study has revealed that the brains of the deceased ‘SuperAgers’ have thick cortexes that deteriorate much more slowly than those younger than them, in their 50s and 60s. The cortex is responsible for decision making processes, critical thinking, retention, and memories.
The entorhinal cortex, which is often the first part of the brain to be affected in Alzheimer’s, plays an important role in memory and learning.
‘SuperAgers’ brains also have less tau tangles. This is an abnormal protein in neurons, that when found in high amounts, is often indicative of Alzheimer’s.
This significantly reduced amount of tau tangles in the ‘SuperAger’ brain could be the reason for their more resilient, more robust cortex.
Von Economo neurons (VENs) are found in the fromto-insular cortex, and anterior lambic area. The true functional implications of VENs are not yet known, however, the high concentration of these cells, indicates, that they likely play an important role in emotional regulation and attentiveness.
The brains of ‘SuperAgers’ exhibit a much higher concentration of VENs.
What have we learned already from studying the ‘SuperAger’ brain?
Some noteworthy, distinct correlations have been made that appear to be significant, with respect to the ‘SuperAger’ brain:
- They have a thicker, more resilient cortex
- Noticeably lower concentration of tau tangles
- Noticeably higher concentration of VENs
So how do I maintain a thicker, more robust cortex, and higher concentration of key neurons?
Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) plays an important role in neuronal survival and growth, serves as a neurotransmitter modulator, and participated in neuronal plasticity, which is essential for learning and memory.
Therefore, increasing BDNF production in the body, could be effective at maintaining healthy, and even growing more robust neurons.
Qualia Mind is a research-backed nootropic also designed to maintain, and enhance long-term brain and cognitive health, and has been shown to improve BDNF.
The medicinal mushroom Lion’s Mane, that is popping up more and more for its benefits in daily use at improving mental acuity, may also help play a larger role in long term brain health, and the production of BDNF.
Furthermore, despite vastly different backgrounds, education levels, and personal experiences, ‘SuperAgers’ do share distinct similarities in how they live their everyday lives that are worth noting.
They remain active on all fronts into their 80s, both physically and mentally. Hearing this, probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, however, knowing this correlation has now been drawn from the actual study of ‘SuperAger’ brains, should reinforce this sentiment.
They also maintain robust social lives, and stay close to, and surrounded by family.
- Keep moving, and just walk more, everyday. Time and again, research shows that simply taking more steps in a day will help you not only live longer, but also with higher quality of life.
- Stay engaged. Keep working, even on projects, learning, and stimulating your mind, and thus, brain. Treat it like a muscle that needs to be trained.
- Stay active in your community, maintain strong relationships with friends and family, and find ways to develop new relationships.
Offset ‘near sight’ overuse with ‘far sight’
We are living in unprecedented times in many ways, but with respect to this topic, we will refer to our use of screens, and thus, the daily strain we place on our ‘near sight’ vision.
No doubt, we are staring at screens (typically 12-24” away from our face, as I’m doing right now) far more than ever before as a result of the invention of the smartphone, then iPad, and so on.
Therefore, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that we are seeing drastically increasing numbers of myopia, or “nearsightedness”, especially in children, teens, and young adults.
This, very likely, is a direct result of the disparity in time spent using and staring at screened devices from a short distance, and subsequent overuse of our ‘near sight’, and lack of use of ‘far sight’.
Research is showing that the actual shape of our eye is changing, in a less desirable way, to adapt to all this screen use.
The simple answer and solution would be to dramatically reduce your use of screens throughout the day.
Simple solution, but not easy, and probably not too likely.
Another solution is to offset your overuse of ‘near sight’ throughout the day, with more ‘far sight’ use.
This can be done by scanning your surrounding environment more while driving, which is probably something we could all be better at from a safety perspective. Remember, scanning, not staring.
Also, get outside and take more walks. And we already know we should walk more for our health.
Scanning your surrounding environment, paying attention to and focusing on objects and things in the distance, and especially stay off your phone. This also results in a more meditative walk.
There is no definitive amount of ‘far sight’ use needed to offset our excessive use of ‘near sight’, however, shooting for even an hour a day total of dedicated ‘far sight’ use is a great goal.
The universe is conspiring with you.
Pay attention to what it’s telling you.
The universe is conspiring with you, even if it feels like it isn’t.
Ever have something seemingly terrible or tragic happen?
But after you grind your way through it, through the thoughts and emotions, through the pain and difficulty, and kept going, possibly in a new direction, only to realize that seemingly terrible thing was a blessing in disguise?
That was the universe giving you the nudge you probably needed.
I truly believe things happen for a reason, as even the most difficult of circumstances instruct.
Listen to your gut.
Read the writing on the wall.
Follow those instincts.
We’ve been blessed with them for a reason.
The universe is conspiring with you, know that, and stay tuned in to what it’s telling you.