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Seniors with super sharp minds

Volume and quality of brain connections could explain the mental capabilities of people over 80 years old

Léo Ramos Chaves / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

Why do some people become more forgetful and find it more difficult to perform calculations or plan everyday tasks after the age of 80, while others are able to maintain a sharp mind? The answer seems to lie in the body’s ability to preserve the number and quality of connections between certain regions of the brain. Physician Laiz Laura de Godoy of the University of São Paulo (USP), together with colleagues from Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK, analyzed functional magnetic resonance images of 31 people from the capital of São Paulo aged 80 and over who showed no signs of cognitive or neurological problems. They initially underwent tests assessing their intelligence quotient (IQ), memory, attention, planning ability, and other functions. Fourteen were classified as super-agers after performing exceptionally in one of the memory tests, with a result equal to or greater than individuals aged 50 to 60 years. These and the remaining 17 participants who performed as expected for their age underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brain during activity. Of the six cerebral networks important to healthy neurological aging, three—one linked to memory, one to planning and attention, and one to language—allowed the scientists to differentiate the super-agers from those with age-expected results (American Journal of Neuroradiology, March 16).