May 24, 2009
Super Memory Club: No Dementia By Age 90

Groucho Marx famously opined "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member"". Well, here's one club I would like to join: the super memory club of people who do not lose their memory marbles as they grow old.

In recent years scientists have become intensely interested in what could be called a super memory club — the fewer than one in 200 of us who, like Ms. Scott and Ms. Cummins, have lived past 90 without a trace of dementia. It is a group that, for the first time, is large enough to provide a glimpse into the lucid brain at the furthest reach of human life, and to help researchers tease apart what, exactly, is essential in preserving mental sharpness to the end.

The scientists studying sharp elderly people suspect bridge playing and other mentally stimulating activity might be protective. But they are still trying to tease out the direction of causation. According to the researchers interviewed in the article diet and exercise seem to deliver little benefit. Your ability to slow your brain aging is limited. Though I expect anything that is good for cardiovascular health will help because if you can't get blood through your vascular system to the brain cells they'll wither and die.

Not surprisingly evidence points to genetic factors.

In studies of the very old, researchers in California, New York, Boston and elsewhere have found clues to that good fortune. For instance, Dr. Kawas’s group has found that some people who are lucid until the end of a very long life have brains that appear riddled with Alzheimer’s disease. In a study released last month, the researchers report that many of them carry a gene variant called APOE2, which may help them maintain mental sharpness.

Dr. Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has found that lucid Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians are three times more likely to carry a gene called CETP, which appears to increase the size and amount of so-called good cholesterol particles, than peers who succumbed to dementia.

I expect the knowledge about CETP and cholesterol particles will lead to useful brain preserving treatments because it will be possible to do gene therapy and cell therapy to the liver to adjust its metabolism of cholesterol, lipids, and lipoproteins. Ditto APOE2 which is synthesized by the liver. I expect reengineering the liver to prevent artery clogging and to lower oxidative stress will slow the rate of brain aging. The liver seems like a great target for therapies aimed at slowing the aging process.

Slowed aging via liver bioengineering could provide us with more time to develop therapies that reverse the aging process.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 May 24 03:13 PM  Brain Aging

Mthson said at May 24, 2009 10:42 PM:

Rita Levi-Montalcini seems like an interesting individual. The Times, April 2009.

If you want to live to a 100, you might consider following Rita Levi-Montalcini's routine: get up at five in the morning, eat just once a day, at lunchtime, keep your brain active, and go to bed at 11pm.

“I might allow myself a bowl of soup or an orange in the evening, but that's about it,” she says. “I'm not really interested in food, or sleep.”

The secret, she says, is work: she still goes to her laboratory every morning to supervise an all-female team developing her Nobel prize-winning research on brain cells, and in the afternoon she goes across town to her foundation in another part of Rome raising funds to help African women to study.

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