Lifestyle Factors Linked to Delaying Memory Loss

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A study from Spain called the Vallecas Project has followed 1169 non-demented people, average age 74.4, for six years and found that some of the participants had memory test scores that were equal to people who were 30 years younger. The authors call the high-scorers “superagers” and they have done further testing on 64 of them, with a matched control group of 55 “typical older adults” who had average memory test scores. MRIs done on these two groups demonstrate that the “superagers” have lost amounts of the gray matter part of the medial temporal brain lobe, cholinergic forebrain, and motor thalamus that controls memory far more slowly than the “typical” group did (The Lancet, July 13, 2023;4(8):E384-E385). The MRIs also showed that superagers also lost far less parts of their motor thalamus that controls muscle movement, and the superagers could move their muscles much faster than the “typical” group members.

Results from a “Timed Up-and-Go Test” and a “Finger Tapping Test” showed that superagers also had much better control of the fine movements of their muscles. In this study, the superagers over 80 years of age were just as active as another test group composed of people who were up to 30 years younger. The 80+ group had also been more active when they were middle-aged. This suggests that at every age, you should be physically fit, do your own physical chores and walk up stairs, so you keep moving even if you don’t have an exercise program.

Furthermore, the superagers were far less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety that appear to increase risk for memory loss with aging. Having lots of friends and being socially active may help to prevent and treat depression and anxiety.

My Recommendations
Memory deteriorates as you age, and we know that by age 90, 35 percent of North Americans have some level of dementia (JAMA Neurol, Oct 24, 2022;79(12):1242-1249). Retaining mental functioning with aging may be enhanced by moving faster in your daily activities and by exercising (Front Hum Neurosci, Jan 27, 2021;15:771553). Lifestyle changes that may help you to slow down loss of brain function include:
• Be very active and try to keep moving every day, even if you don’t have a formal exercise program
• Try to use your brain every day with activities that use your memory, such as puzzles, word games, list-making, staying aware of current events. learning new skills and so forth
• Try to avoid or get out of depressing and hurtful situations
• Have lots of friends and participate in activities with people who have similar interests