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Study Reveals Rare Elder Group superagers

As we grow brains undergo a slow process of atrophy, causing less robust communication between various brain regions, which leads to declining memory and other cognitive functions. A rare group of older individuals called Superagers have been shown to learn and recall novel information as well as a 25-year-old.

Investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital have now identified the brain activity that underlies Superagers superior memory. Alexandra Touroutoglou, PhD, director of Imaging Operations at MGH’s Frontotemporal Disorders Unit and senior author of the paper published in Cerebral Cortex said that this is the first time we have images of the function of Superagers brains as they actively learn and remember new information.

In the new study, the investigators gave 40 adults with a mean age of 67 a very challenging memory test while their brains were imaged using functional magnetic resonance imaging which, unlike typical MRI, shows the activity of different brain areas during tasks. Forty-one young adults also took the same memory test while their brains were imaged. The participants viewed 80 pictures of faces or scenes that were each paired with an adjective, such as a cityscape paired with the word industrial or a male face paired with the word average.

The first task was to determine whether the word matched the image, a process called encoding. After 10 minutes, participants were presented with the 80 image-word pairs they had just learned, an additional 40 pairs of new words and images, and 40 rearranged pairs consisting of words and images they had previously seen. Their second task was to recall whether they had previously seen each specific word-picture pair, or whether they were looking at a new or rearranged pair.

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