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Why Some ‘Super Agers’ Keep Their Minds Dementia Free

TUESDAY, February 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Researchers may have discovered a key reason some people stay alive in the ’80s and’ 90s: Their brains are resistant to the build-up of certain proteins that mark Alzheimer’s disease.

The study focused on what scientists have dubbed “super-agers” – a select group of older people who remember people decades younger.

Compared to older people who had average brain power, super-agers showed much less evidence of “tau tangles” in their brains, the researchers found.

Tau is a protein that in healthy brain cells helps stabilize the internal structure. But abnormal versions of tau – those that cling to other tau proteins – can also develop.

In people with Alzheimer’s disease, the brain is scarred by a large build-up of these tau tangles, as well as “plaques,” which are clumps of another protein called amyloid.

For years, amyloid plaques have garnered attention as a potential treatment target for Alzheimer’s disease, said researcher Tamar Gefen, who led the new study.

But a body of evidence tells a different story: It’s the buildup of tau – not amyloid – that correlates with a decline in memory and thinking skills, said Gefen, an assistant professor at Northwestern. University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

These latest findings on super-agers, she said, support that research.

We don’t know how many super-agers there are. One reason is that there is no single definition of the term, said Claire Sexton, director of science programs and initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association.

This study involved people aged 80 and over. But other research, Sexton said, has narrowed attention to 90-year-olds or even centenarians.

The million dollar question is, what does it take to be a member of this elite group?

It’s likely that super-agers have to thank genetics, in part, according to Sexton.

But in all likelihood, she says, it’s a mix of the right genes, lifestyle factors, and lifetime exposures, from physical activity to social engagement to mentally stimulating experiences.