Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Brief Communication

Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Cognitive Aging

Theresa M. Harrisona1, Sandra Weintrauba1a2, M.-Marsel Mesulama1a3 and Emily Rogalskia1 c1

a1 Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern University (NU) Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois

a2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, NU Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois

a3 Department of Neurology, NU Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois

Abstract

It is “normal” for old age to be associated with gradual decline in memory and brain mass. However, there are anecdotal reports of individuals who seem immune to age-related memory impairment, but these individuals have not been studied systematically. This study sought to establish that such cognitive SuperAgers exist and to determine if they were also resistant to age-related loss of cortical brain volume. SuperAgers were defined as individuals over age 80 with episodic memory performance at least as good as normative values for 50- to 65-year-olds. Cortical morphometry of the SuperAgers was compared to two cognitively normal cohorts: age-matched elderly and 50- to 65-year-olds. The SuperAgers’ cerebral cortex was significantly thicker than their healthy age-matched peers and displayed no atrophy compared to the 50- to 65-year-old healthy group. Unexpectedly, a region of left anterior cingulate cortex was significantly thicker in the SuperAgers than in both elderly and middle-aged controls. Our findings identify cognitive and neuroanatomical features of a cohort that appears to resist average age-related changes of memory capacity and cortical volume. A better understanding of the underlying factors promoting this potential trajectory of unusually successful aging may provide insight for preventing age-related cognitive impairments or the more severe changes associated with Alzheimer's disease. (JINS, 2012, 18, 1–5)

(Received April 17 2012)

(Revised May 18 2012)

(Accepted May 21 2012)

Keywords

  • Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);
  • Neuropsychology;
  • Dementia;
  • Freesurfer;
  • Elderly;
  • Neuroimaging

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Emily J. Rogalski, Northwestern University, Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center (CNADC), 320 E. Superior Street, Searle Building 11th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. E-mail: erogalski@gmail.com

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