Superagers ‘more resistant to overall age-related decline than typical adults’

Razor-sharp memory function in older adults has been linked to faster movement and better mental health (Joe Giddens/PA)
Razor-sharp memory function in older adults has been linked to faster movement and better mental health (Joe Giddens/PA)

It’s not just their exceptional memory skills that sets superagers apart.

Scientists have found that these people in their 80s, whose memories are as good as those around 30 years younger, are more likely to have greater movement speed as well as lower rates of anxiety and depression, compared to a typical older adult.

New evidence, published in the The Lancet Healthy Longevity journal, also shows superagers have more grey matter in key regions linked to memory function.

Scientists now believe this group of people may be more resistant to overall age-related decline compared to their peers.

First author Marta Garo-Pascual, of the Queen Sofia Foundation Alzheimer Centre, Madrid, Spain, said: “We are now closer to solving one of the biggest unanswered questions about superagers – whether they are truly resistant to age-related memory decline or they have coping mechanisms that help them overcome this decline better than their peers.

“Our findings suggest superagers are resistant to these processes, though the precise reasons for this are still unclear.

“By looking further into links between superageing and movement speed we may be able to gain important insights into the mechanisms behind the preservation of memory function deep into old age.”

For the study, the researchers recruited more than 1,200 people, aged 69 to 86 years, between 2011 and 2014.

This cohort did not have any brain or mental health disorders at the start of the study and had up to six annual follow-ups over the course of the research.

Their memory skills were assessed using standard tests while blood samples were taken to screen for markers of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

The researchers also looked into their lifestyle to identify factors associated with superagers.

The team said superagers did at least as well as the average person around 30 years younger with the same education level – and around 59% of them were women.

Superagers also performed better in mobility tests compared to typical older adults, despite no differences in self-reported exercise levels between the two groups, the researchers said.

Senior author Dr Bryan Strange, of the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, said: “Though superagers report similar activity levels to typical older people, it’s possible they do more physically demanding activities like gardening or stair climbing.

“From lower blood pressure and obesity levels to increased blood flow to the brain, there are many direct and indirect benefits of being physically active that may contribute to improved cognitive abilities in old age.”

Dr Strange said further research is needed to find out more about how to preserve memory function in older adults.

He said: “What we have, however, discovered is that there is an overlap between risk or protective factors for dementia and those associated with superageing (such as blood pressure, glucose control and mental health).”