Research led by a Greek scientist reveals how some old people retain memories
A study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) led by a Greek scientist has revealed something interesting: elderly people who are able to retain sharp memories have brains that look like they haven’t aged in decades.
Alexandra Touroutoglou of MGH Neurology and HMS, who co-authored the research with MGH Department of Neurology Frontotemporal Disorders Unit Director Bradford Dickerson, MD, and MGH Department of Psychiatry’s Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, the study observed 40 adults aged 60 to 80 years old.
While memory loss is often one of the most unfortunate consequences of adding years to one’s age, some elderly adults remain sharp — their thought processes are just as coordinated as anyone decades younger than their age.
The study, which was recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, paved the way for the stunning discovery, as researchers try to find ways to maintain the brain activity that supports youthful thinking abilities in the elderly.
Among the subjects, 17 were found to have memories that perform just as well as individuals who are forty to fifty years younger than them.
The 23 other subjects involved in the study obtained normal results in the memory tests conducted by the researchers.
Also, part of the study were 41 young adults, whose age ranged from 18 to 35 years old.
In the study, researchers found that the subjects which were able to retain sharp memories had brains that exhibit youthful characteristics.
The researchers observe that the size of the cortex and other parts of the brain that exhibit characteristics of youthful memory are approximately same size as those of the subjects decades younger than them.
This finding — which the researchers observed through brain imaging — is significant because the brain’s cortex, which is responsible for many thinking abilities, usually shrinks with age.
The same goes for a number of other regions of the brain.
According to Alexandra Touroutoglou, PhD, who is a senior co-author in the study:
“We looked at a set of brain areas known as the default mode network, which has been associated with the ability to learn and remember new information, and found that those areas, particularly the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex, were thicker in super agers than in other older adults. In some cases, there was no difference in thickness between super agers and young adults.“
The researchers noted that brain regions that showed no signs of shrinkage in the study were the same regions that are correlated with the brain’s memory ability.
While no direct conclusion about how some elderly are able to retain good memory function has been established as of yet, scientists suspect that effective communication between brain networks in the para-midcingulate cortex plays an important role in healthy cognitive ageing.
The para-midcingulate cortex is considered a hub in the brain that’s responsible for effective communication in brain networks.
Scientists hope that the study would pave the way for understanding how some people are able to evade memory decline — and consequently lead to important medical advances related to the treatment of various ailments related to memory loss.