Superagers with Amazing Memories Have Alzheimer’s Brain Plaques

The title of this post is identical to an UpFront News article in the 19 November 2016 issue of the New Scientist.  HM is hoping that healthymemory blog readers are asking, “Is this news?  I thought this was well known!”   Although this is not news, it remains a little known fact in the general public about  Alzheimer’s, when it is the most substantive fact existing about Alzheimers.

The article briefly summarizes work done by Aras Rezvanian and his colleagues at Northwestern University on brain samples donated by superagers to try to understand their exceptional memories.  Of the eight donated samples, two contained so many plaques and tangles that they looked like severe cases of Alzheimer’s.

But to repeat, this finding is not new.  Many such people have died.  Moreover these two individuals were not known to have Alzheimer’s.  After all, they were superagers.  And they died not knowing that they had the definitive symptoms for a diagnosis.

It would be good go  back and read the healthymemory blog “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”   The senior author of this book is Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, who was once a researcher earning a lucrative income looking for drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s. He came to the conclusion that such work is fruitless and is now working as a clinician treating and mitigating dementia cases.  Here is his advice, “”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes in spite of the promises of the Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for AD to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitve decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The explanation for people living with the physical symptoms of Alzheimer’s but absent any of the behavioral and clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that they have build up a cognitive reserve.  Cognitive activity, learning new things, is what builds up this cognitive reserve.  There are healthy memory blog posts on theoretical mechanisms for building cognitive reserves, but these posts are hypothetical conjectures.

That cognitive decline can be avoided by staying active has been known at least since the time of the Romans.   The Roman statesman Cicero held a view much more in line with modern-day medical wisdom that loss of mental function was not inevitable in the elderly and “affected only those old men who were weak-willed.”  HM would substitute  “not cognitively active” in the place of “weak-willed.”

When HM taught at a university he was amazed how so many students were able to get their degrees while spending a minimum of cognitive effort.  Other HM blog posts have argued that choices of News shows and political candidates might well be indications of the desire to spend the minimum in the way of cognitive effort.
In closing this post it should be noted that Alzheimer’s is not an inevitable consequence of aging, no matter how great an age is attained.  There are numerous documented supercentenarians (people living to 110+) that experienced no serious cognitive impairment.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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One Response to “Superagers with Amazing Memories Have Alzheimer’s Brain Plaques”

  1. AlzScience Says:

    Thanks for posting! It has always seemed to me like an odd circular logic that when this discovery was first made, the reaction of many scientists was to change very definition of Alzheimer’s to be based solely upon plaque load rather than cognitive symptoms, rather than consider the possibility that the amyloid cascade hypothesis may be flawed (or at least incomplete).

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