Another research focusing on super agers, elderly people who have a memory performance that defies their age, has brought forward some surprising results. A team of researchers found out that even though the brains of such individuals had a number of amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s, their memory remained unaffected. This lead to a conclusion that such people might have some sort of protection against plaque related negative effects.
According to neurologist Changiz Geula, who presented the current findings during the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, the results show that some aged individuals have immunity to Alzheimer’s pathology.
The said mental disease is diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms exhibited by a person with impairment in memory being the most serious one. A definitive diagnosis for the disease can only be made after death, after observing the brain tissue post-mortem for signs of plaques. For conducting the current research the brains of eight individuals were examined. All of them died in their 90s. They had also shown what is considered as superior memory performance with regards to their age. The brains of almost all healthy older people have low levels of plaques and tangles. However, the current observation brought forward a different pattern. A widespread distribution of plaques and tangles was seen in 3 of the total 8 studied brains. Some of the observed brains happened to be quite clean and didn’t even show a low level of plaque buildup that occurs with age.
The team of researchers then turned to observing the neurons present in the super agers’ brains. The specific part studied was the hippocampus, which is important for forming and creating memories. Alzheimer also targets this area in infected people. Their results showed that neurons in such individuals were well preserved compared to a brain affected by Alzheimer and having the same pathology level. The findings from the study do give rise to a lot of questions. Mainly, are the current diagnostic approaches for Alzheimer correct? Do some people have natural immunity to the negative effects associated with brain cells covered in plaques? And if such immunity does exist, how did they acquire it?
The research team does plan to further investigate this phenomenon and understand the factors that may be playing a role in giving rise to the protection that neurons experience in such people. Environmental factors might play a role and they can be controlled by the individual. Previous studies have talked about ‘cognitive reserve’ that makes the brain resistant to the natural effects of aging. It occurs in people who continue to acquire education till quite later in life. The theory behind cognitive reserve is that such individuals keep using their brains and this leads to a healthier relationship between the neurons and reduces negative effects of aging such as memory loss. Some other factors playing a role could be due to genetics. Such individuals might have specific cellular mechanisms that give rise to a sort of protection against brain tangles and plaques.
Further research that might be able to find these specific mechanisms could lead to some beneficial results in the medical society. It can help point towards crucial pathways for treating Alzheimer. It can also help millions of people resist the severe reduction in cognitive ability due to age.