At age 80 or older, superagers have superior episodic memories that are as good
as those of average middle-aged adults. They have been shown to have slower
than average age-related whole-brain cortical volume loss. As Lisa Feldman
Barrett has pointed out, we don’t know the best ways to increase our chances of
becoming a superager, but the best answer so far is to work hard at something.
Both vigorous physical exercise and strenuous mental effort seem to be important.
But there is a downside. It takes hard work, and hard work comes with discomfort,
fatigue, and frustration. Feldman Barrett says that “Superagers are like Marines:
They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. . . . You
must expend enough effort that you feel some ‘yuck.’ Do it till it hurts, and then a
bit more . . . . All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose
it.” So, by all means, do something that taxes your brain in productive ways, the
harder, the better. Whatever activities you force your brain to engage in, you will
get better at them.
Keep in mind that physical activity and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle are more
important to brain health than mental gymnastics to avoid cognitive decline and dementia.
We know that staying physically active, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding diabetes
by limiting sugar intake and overweight, avoiding misuse of alcohol and tobacco,
consuming a low saturated fat whole-food plant-based diet, and keeping blood lipids
and blood pressure in healthy ranges are important to brain health. All these
health-supporting factors are found on the Lifestyle Checklist.
What is next?
The failure of almost all drugs to prevent decline or improve cognitive function has
promoted rethinking of the approach to Alzheimer disease. One theory that is being
explored is that with aging and cardiovascular risk factors, the integrity of blood
vessels and the blood-brain barrier weakens, and pathogens (bacteria and viruses)
cause brain inflammation and the deposition of amyloid.
Infection of the brain or elsewhere in the body with herpes simplex virus (HSV),
herpesvirus (HHV) and other microbes has been linked to Alzheimer disease.
However it is not known whether neuroinflammation is a cause, rather than a consequence,
of the amyloidosis, tau deposition, and ultimately neurodegeneration seen
Research has found that the gradual damage with normal aging correlates very
strongly with the changes in blood vessels in the hippocampus and parahippocampal
gyrus, areas heavily involved in memory and learning. Blonz suggests focusing
research on developing various methods to maintain adequate brain glucose and
other energy resources.
As it is with many diseases, the best hope for coping with Alzheimer disease seems
to be in prevention. Establishing and maintaining a healthy metabolism, including physical activity, good nutrition, and other measures to improve cardiovascular health, seems to be crucial to prevention.
A study published in Lancet in 2020 indicates that modifying 12 lifestyle risk factors might prevent or delay up to
40% of dementias. The modifiable factors are excessive alcohol consumption, head
injury, air pollution, low education, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking,
obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, and infrequent social contact.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.