Graphic: Hands holding a brain
A recently published paper by CEPAR researchers Janet Maccora, Ruth Peters and Kaarin Anstey shows that adults over 60 can sustain superior memory recall, however, associated factors vary between genders.
Despite expectations of deterioration in memory function with age, some older adults demonstrate superior memory performance. They have been defined as ‘SuperAgers’ - people in their 60s who perform as well as, or better than, people 40 years younger than them on cognitive tests.
“The existence of SuperAgers is important because it demonstrates not only the possibility of high functioning in later life, but also that it is not just young people who have excellent memory, thus challenging assumptions and negative stereotypes about ageing,” said lead author Janet Maccora, CEPAR PhD candidate at UNSW NeuRA.
Using data from the Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life cohort study that has been running in the ACT and Queanbeyan and led by CEPAR Chief Investigator Kaarin Anstey since 2006, the researchers set out to apply a gender-specific definition of a SuperAger and to measure the prevalence of male and female SuperAgers in this population.
They also investigated gender-specific associations between being a SuperAger and various demographic, physical, genetic, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors previously associated with later-life cognition, including education.
They found that there was a higher prevalence of female SuperAgers than male in this Australian population and that associated factors vary between genders.
“Our research results show that factors associated with being a SuperAger differ for men and women, with the exception of years of education,” Janet Maccora said.
“Education was the only factor associated with SuperAgeing for both men and women, with more years of education increasing the odds of being a SuperAger.
“In terms of gender-specific findings, we found an association between a lower score for depressive symptoms and being a male SuperAger. We also confirm an association between participation in social activities and SuperAgeing for men only. Each increase in social activity level, such as being on a committee, increased the odds of being a male SuperAger.
“In our study, the only factors associated with being a female SuperAger were more standard drinks per week, and a higher frequency of involvement in investigative activities, for example reading scientific books or magazines, solving maths or chess puzzles, or doing troubleshooting of software packages on a PC.
“However, we must interpret the counterintuitive finding of a relationship between alcohol and female SuperAgers with caution. There are challenges in measuring the association between alcohol consumption and later-life cognition, such as the risk of bias inherent in self-reported measurements, the lack of information regarding alcohol type or the unmeasured influence of socioeconomic status.
“We also found that many factors previously identified as associated with older age cognitive decline, such as diabetes, hypertension and smoking, were not linked with being a SuperAger in this population,” said Janet Maccora.
By using this large population-based, randomly recruited cohort of naturally evolving SuperAgers rather than volunteers, this study conducted the first measurement of the prevalence of SuperAgers in a longitudinal cohort and also improved the generalizability of the findings and the power to detect statistically significant associations, according to the researchers.
Maccora, J., Peters, R., & Anstey, K. J. (2020). Gender differences in superior-memory SuperAgers and associated factors in an Australian cohort. Journal of Applied Gerontology.