Good Friends Might Be Your Best Brain Booster As You Age

Via Kaiser Health News:

For nine years, these experts have been examining “SuperAgers” — men and women over age 80 whose memories are as good — or better — than people 20 to 30 years younger. Every couple of years, the group fills out surveys about their lives and gets a battery of neuropsychological tests, brain scans and a neurological examination, among other evaluations.  “When we started this project, we weren’t really sure we could find these individuals,” said Emily Rogalski, an associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.  But find them they did: Thirty-one older men and women with exceptional memories, mostly from Illinois and surrounding states, are currently participating in the project. “Part of the goal is to characterize them — who are they, what are they like,” Rogalski said.  Previous research by the Northwestern group provided tantalizing clues, showing that SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory).

 

But brain structure alone doesn’t fully account for SuperAgers’ unusual mental acuity, Rogalski suggested. “It’s likely there are a number of critical factors that are implicated,” she said.vvFor their new study, the researchers asked 31 SuperAgers and 19 cognitively “normal” older adults to fill out a 42-item questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out in one area: the degree to which they reported having satisfying, warm, trusting relationships. (In other areas, such as having a purpose in life or retaining autonomy, they were much like their “normal” peers.)  “Social relationships are really important” to this group and might play a significant role in preserving their cognition, Rogalski said.  That finding is consistent with other research linking positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Still, researchers haven’t examined how SuperAgers sustain these relationships and whether their experiences might include lessons for others.

 

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