Many individuals who survive to old age suffer a trade-off of declining mental function.
But there are others who can finish crossword puzzles in record time well into their 90s, or who can remember conversations that took place 5 minutes or 50 years before.
Geula and his colleagues examined the brains of five of these deceased "super-aged" individuals.
They were considered super-aged if, at 80 years or older, they had the cognitive performance of a 50-year-old; if they had not declined cognitively in at least three years; if they were involved in social and personal activities and/or had achieved a major life accomplishment (such as writing and publishing a book) as an octogenarian or later.
The brains of the super-aged had fewer neurofibrillary "tangles" than did those of people who had aged normally.
These tangles, consisting of a protein called tau, are thought to cause memory and other decline in people with Alzheimer's.
Amyloid-protein plaques, which also accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, were present in both groups.
Said Mark Mapstone, associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, "They are looking at what goes right with aging and going forward with that. The eventual goal would be to do things that promote what goes right before people start to hit old age."
"The study is very innovative in the sense that most previous attempts have started with the disease end of the spectrum, and this is obviously the other side of the coin," he added. "Very few have pulled it together in this sort of comprehensive manner."
Mapstone completed his Ph.D. with two of the co-authors of the study.
Visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health for more on senior health issues.
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