Genetics May Help Prevent Decline in Cognitive Function

January 4, 2021 12:20:15

While some individuals suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s as they get older, others tend to remain sharp well past the age of 80. German researchers have found the reason for this: an individual’s genes.

The researchers’ conclusion is based on findings from a study that involved studying the brain images of 94 participants who were 80 years old and above. The images were made up of the amount of beta-amyloid protein plaques and tau protein tangles discovered in the participants’ brains.

Researchers found that individuals who had lower scores on memory tests were those who were aging normally. These participants had more tangles compared to younger persons.

The participants who had the highest scores on their memory tests had very little build-up of plaques and tangles. They were referred to as “super agers.” However, the participants who had already been diagnosed with thinking skills that were mildly impaired had more build-up of plaques and tangles. The study was reported online in “JAMA Network Open.”

According to the United Stated National Institute on Aging, an abnormal build-up of both plaques and tau is deemed to be a warning sign for impaired thinking.

Merle Hoenig, the lead researcher of the study, explained that super aging was having an especially high cognitive functionality as an individual turns 80 or 90 years. Hoenig, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University Hospital Cologne in Germany, stated that super agers may be benefitting from a protective dynamic.

She observed that researchers noted that super agers did not accumulate proteins that were associated with aging such as amyloid and tau pathology while individuals who aged normally presented tau pathology.

Hoenig also added that the study’s findings highlight the need to look into the brain molecular signature of the individuals who showed resistance to the build-up of proteins that were linked to aging. This, she said, could possibly help develop new treatments for illnesses associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Association vice president of scientific and medical operations Heather Snyder stated that evidence exists that suggest that genetics play a part in the risk of an individual developing Alzheimer’s, adding that genetics may also be what protects an individual from the disease.

Currently, researchers are looking for ways to use the findings provided above to help delay or prevent the build-up of plaques and tangles, while also working on discovering new ways to better the delivery of nutrients across and within brain cells.

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