Health experts are baffled by new research at the Northwestern University in Chicago, America, which has found that a group of “super-agers” who should be showing signs of dementia, aren’t.
The group of people, aged between 80 and 100, are said to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, guzzle down coffee and eat unhealthy foods, yet brain scans have determined that their minds are actually better than most people in their 50s. The results have confused researchers on the project, who usually attribute these behaviours to a decline in health. It also shines a light on what could lead to a longer life.
The Times reports that researchers followed the group of “super-agers” for a number of years and found that despite their lifestyle choices, which typically include habits that health professionals discourage, their cognitive health didn’t appear to be declining as expected. In fact, even in patients who showed symptoms of dementia, were still able to show high levels of memory and speech.
Emily Rogalski, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at the Northwestern University, suggested that there were two main factors that each of the participants in the survey had in the common. The first, was a high level of a brain cell known as von Economo neuron, and the second, was a happy and positive outlook on life.
“The findings suggest that super-agers have unique personality profiles,” she explained at a conference for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas on Sunday. “Excellent memory capacity is biologically possible in late life and can be maintained for years even when there is significant neuropathologic burden.”
What makes this research so different from others is the fact that it is focusing on the people who don’t become ill, rather than those that do. A lot of research out there, particularly those that focus on cognitive health, typically try to determine why patients see a decline in their health.
As a result of this different approach, the findings suggested that 71 per cent of participants smoked more than average, while 83 per cent admitted to drinking alcohol regularly. It also found that despite living hard lives, the “super-agers” all maintained a zest for life.
Most of the “super-agers” had outgoing personalities, lead active lives and were very social. They also remained optimistic in many situations.
In Australia, more than 400,000 people currently live with dementia. Worldwide, the number currently sits at 50 million, with around 10 million people being diagnosed each year.
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