While there’s no test you can take at home to definitively say how “old” or “young” your brain is, we can think of a young and healthy brain as being at peak function. And, most often, peak brain function is associated with a sharp memory. As we get older, it can be difficult to remember names, faces, events, something we just read, or what we ate.
In younger brains, the process called neural differentiation is efficient and robust. In this process, specific brain cells are tasked to remember certain types of information, such as faces. As we age, that process deteriorates, so the cells lose their specificity and do not function as well. Instead of just focusing on faces, they try to remember other types of information as well. For a SuperAger, neural differentiation is akin to that of a twenty-five-year-old. That’s part of the reason why a SuperAger has the memory performance of a twenty-five-year-old.
So what else are the secrets of these SuperAgers with robust memory—and all those with brain ages younger than their chronological age? A study published in 2021 uncovered some surprising answers. Over eighteen months, the study followed 330 people, referred to as SuperAgers, who were 100 years or older; the researchers found no decline in most areas of memory or cognitive abilities2.
While a year and a half might not sound like a long time, once a person reaches the century mark, two years for them is like twenty-five years for a seventy-five-year-old in terms of brain health. For example, the risk for developing dementia3 increases by 60 percent every two years after the age of 100, while it takes twenty-five years for a 75-year-old’s risk of dementia to increase by the same amount. In other words, twenty-five years of risk is compressed into two years after the age of 100.