Posted in a comment by Rose, from the Sunday Times:
They smoke, they drink and brain scans suggest that they should be getting dementia but a group of “super-agers” — aged 80 to 100 and found to be mentally sharper than most fiftysomethings — are confounding medical beliefs.
Researchers who followed the group for years found that their brains seem resilient to age, keeping their powers of memory, cognition and language, despite lifestyles that often included the bad habits that doctors warn against. The super-agers retained these powers despite their brains having many symptoms associated with dementia — including neurofibrillary tangles, deposits of deformed proteins that are supposedly highly toxic for brain cells.
Most ‘super agers’ drink, smoke, gain weight and never retire – but their zest for life leaves them resistant to dementia
Scientists are baffled by the paradox which has emerged from the famed 90+ study, analyzing people aged 80 to 100 who seem resilient to cognitive decline.
To their surprise, they found the people in this unique group do not have an over-expression of the APOE 22 gene, which was thought to be protective against dementia.
But they did all share a more positive outlook on life than their peers, they cared more about close relationships, they were very active – and diet seemed to have little to do with it.
New scans also reveal these super agers have a higher proportion in their brain of a rare neuron called von Economo, a ‘social’ neurons which tends to be dysfunctional in people with autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”
“Dr Claudia Kawas, professor of neurology at the University of California, Irvine, said the findings are challenging everything she has ever known after decades in the field.
‘I almost think we should stop doing research and just start using our bodies and brains more,’ she quipped.
‘These people are inspiring – they drink wine, drink coffee, gain weight, but they exercise and use their brains. Maybe that can tell us something.’
The researchers say they have also found that common human vices do not necessarily need lead to an early grave, with many superagers saying they smoked and enjoyed a tipple.
“We ask them why is it that you think you are a superager, how did you get here, and there are a couple of funny ladies and they will say, well it’s because I have a martini with my friends every day at 5 o’clock. Others have never had a drink,” said Rogalski.
Being underweight also seemed to matter, with those who had a very low body mass index after the age of 80 more likely to die. “It’s not bad to be skinny when you’re young but it’s very bad to be skinny when you’re old,” said Kawas.
However, Rogalski added, that did not mean that people should take up bad habits to live longer, noting that some people might have a genetic makeup that allowed them to tolerate smoking and drinking.
Nonetheless, Rogalski thinks we can learn from superagers. “We are getting quite good at extending our lifespan but our health span isn’t keeping up and what the superagers have is more of a balance between those two, they are living long and living well,” she said.
To make matters even more interesting, these SuperAgers aren’t even that healthy in other regards, on average. According to Rogalski’s research, 71 percent of the SuperAgers in her study were smokers, and 83 percent regularly drank alcohol.
The first thing you can do to prolong your life (and live well for the duration of it) is to absolutely not smoke cigarettes, regardless of what the SuperAgers are doing…
I hope that no children get to hear about this, because they might get the silly idea that if they enjoy their lives to the full, they may expect to live long and fulfilling lives. And that would never do.