People who age gracefully have bigger brain cells than the rest of us, study indicates


People who stay mentally sharp in old age have larger brain cells than people who are decades younger, study shows

  • They have special neurons that are larger than those of people 30 years younger
  • The neurons also don’t have ‘tau tangles’, a telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Researchers cut open postmortem brains of the elderly to compare







People who stay mentally sharp and healthy into their 80s have larger brain cells, a study suggests.

Our neurons start to shrink slowly as we age, which is why we tend to slow down in our senior years.

But brain cells in so-called “super-agers” are larger than those in people 20 to 30 years younger than them, scientists for the first time showed.

It’s not clear whether people are born with larger neurons or if they are simply more durable.

But the discovery of this unique biological signature could one day open the door to screening programs and treatments for the memory disorder, scientists hope.

Super-agers have the brainpower of those 20-30 years younger, thanks to neurons in their brains that are larger than average from birth (stock image)

Super-agers have the brainpower of those 20-30 years younger, thanks to neurons in their brains that are larger than average from birth (stock image)

Lead author of the new study Dr Tamar Gefen, of Northwestern University in Chicago, said: ‘To understand how and why people may be resistant to developing Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to understand the postmortem brains of super-agers. to be examined in detail.

‘What makes the brains of superagers unique? How can we use their biological properties to help the elderly prevent Alzheimer’s disease?’

The scientists sliced ​​open the postmortem brains of six super-elder donors to see what makes them unique.

They compared them to a control group of seven average patients of the same age, along with six people over the age of 50 and 60 and five individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

They examined the entorhinal cortex, the brain’s memory control center and one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

They measured the size of neurons and looked for tau tangles – a type of plaque associated with dementia.

The special neurons turned out to be relatively empty of the protein.

dr. Gefen added: ‘The remarkable observation that ‘super-agers’ exhibited larger neurons than their younger peers may imply that large cells were present from birth and are structurally maintained throughout their lives.

“We conclude that larger neurons are a biological signature of the super-ager pathway.”

The findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which the build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that transmit messages and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.


When brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

That includes memory, orientation, and the ability to think and reason.

The course of the disease is slow and gradual.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live ten to 15 years.


  • Loss of short-term memory
  • disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • mood swings
  • Difficulty handling or calling money


  • Severe amnesia, forgetting close relatives, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated with the inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually loses the ability to walk
  • May have problems eating
  • The majority ultimately need 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association