A new study published in Cerebral Cortex explored the brains of a group called “superagers” – older adults (65+ years old) with super-memories – and how they function. The results were surprising: The memory of a super-ager is indistinguishable from the memory of a 25-year-old.
Aging brings more wisdom and experience, but it can also make it more difficult to remember things like the name of a person you just met or where you put your car keys. This is because as we age, our brains begin to slow down, and the different parts of the brain communicate less, causing memory decline. This is common in just about everyone except this select group of superagers. Understanding what causes the youthful memory of these individuals could be the key to helping all of us prevent memory decline.
In the study, a group of young adults and a group of superagers completed a memory test while scientists used fMRI (MRI technology that shows activity in different areas of the brain) to image their brains. The superagers showed higher brain connectivity and their neural networks resembled that of a young adult. This potentially explains why their memory capacity was in line with people in their 20s.
More specifically, superagers showed greater neural differentiation, meaning they more effectively distinguished between visual stimuli in different categories. They also showed greater neural reinstatement, meaning they more accurately recalled the information gathered from the visual stimuli. Greater neural differentiation and reinstatement are associated with better memory. Essentially, when presented with information, superagers learn and remember as well as young adults and much better than the average older adult, giving them their increased memory abilities.
Further research is required to discover whether these superagers’ brains have always been more efficient or if they have developed mechanisms to successfully beat one aspect of the aging process. The most important takeaway is that researchers are beginning to understand how the brains of superagers work and how lifestyle contributes to their incredible memory.
Yuta Katsumi, Joseph M Andreano, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Bradford C Dickerson, Alexandra
Touroutoglou, Greater Neural Differentiation in the Ventral Visual Cortex Is Associated with
Youthful Memory in Superaging, Cerebral Cortex, 2021; bhab157, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhab157
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