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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Aerobic Exercise Makes You Smarter

On several occasions, I have written about the anti-aging beneficial effects of exercise. New studies, confirm earlier findings of exercise benefit. Now, a new study shows that exercise reduces levels of the major inflammatory chemical, interleukin-6, and an associated enhancement of neural activity in the brain circuitry used to encode information and form memories.
In response to earlier studies by others showing that exercise improves mental function, a team from mostly German universities studied the effects of exercise on 32 subjects aged 52 to 71 years old. They were particularly interested in memory because prior studies by others made it clear that age usually impairs memories of names and faces, situations and events, which are categorized as episodic memory. Tests of recall of episodic memory show marked age decrements in many subjects, even if they are given reminder cues.
Other researchers had shown that exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, reduces decline of episodic memory. This group of researchers wanted to explore why this benefit occurs. They examined two possibilities for the benefit of exercise:

1. Reduction of inflammatory chemicals (interleukin-6), which is known to occur with aerobic exercise in younger people, and
2. Strengthened connection among neurons that encode and form episodic memories (in the hippocampus, thalamus, and medial prefrontal cortex).

In the experiment on day one, subjects completed a survey that revealed each person's level of physical activity over the past week and gave a blood sample for measuring the baseline level of interleukin-6. Each subject then took several standardized tests of episodic memory. Then each subject had their brains scanned with fMRI while they were asked to memorize a series of faces and their association with a profession (pilot, electrician, bus driver, etc.). After the scan, they were tested for recall. The purpose of the scan was to assess functional connectivity, that is, how strongly the activation correlated in the brain areas that participate in encoding and memory formation.
The exercise survey allowed subjects to be grouped on the basis of aerobic and non-aerobic exercise during the prior week. The aerobic group remembered more items on the episodic memory task. The aerobic group also revealed stronger functional connectivity among several areas in the memory network. Additionally, there was a correlation with levels of the inflammatory chemical: subjects showing strong functional connectivity had the lowest levels of interleukin-6.
Limitations of the study include a failure to distinguish the intensity of exercise. For example, one can jog three hours a week at high speed or rather leisurely. Also, actual fitness of each subject was not measured, just a log of their exercise activities during the prior week. Another factor is that only one inflammatory chemical was studied. Interleukin-6 is one of a large family of such chemicals known as cytokines, and there are other inflammatory chemicals as well. Moreover, the significance of interleukin was not evaluated. When brain is damaged (by stress, metabolic production of free radicals, or whatever), interleukin-6 is released as a defense mechanism.
Nonetheless, a strong correlation, consistent with prior studies, was demonstrated between aerobic exercise, inflammation, and mental function. The authors did not speculate on why these effects occurred. I will.
Two contributing factors are obvious. One obvious factor is that aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular function and likely improves blood flow through the brain. The other obvious factor is that aerobic exercise releases the "feel-good" endorphins. Endorphins alleviate stress. Stress, more specifically the cortisol released during stress, shrinks the synaptic connections between neurons, which of course can be expected to diminish functional connectivity and information processing efficiency. Stress increases the level of inflammatory chemicals like interleukin-6. The low level of interleukin-6 in the aerobic group indicates that these brains were somewhat protected from the ravages of stress and free radicals.
Bottom line: aerobic exercise is good for older people. In addition to the well-known cardiovascular benefits, aerobic exercise makes people more sharp mentally. How one gets the needed aerobic exercise probably doesn't matter, as long as the exercise is sufficiently intense and sustained. Jogging, bike riding, swimming, and fast-moving sports should all prove beneficial.

Readers of this column will be interested in "Memory Medic's" e-book, Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine (available in all formats from The book, devoted exclusively to memory issues in seniors, includes review of many of the ideas in these columns over the last five years.


Thielen, Jan-Willem et al. (2016. Aerobic activity in the healthy elderly is associated with larger plasticity in memory related brain structures and lower system inflammation. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 26 December. doi.: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00319

Erta, M., Quintana, A., and Hidalgo, J. (2012) Interleukin-6, a Major Cytokine in the Central Nervous System. Int. J. Biol. Sci. 8(9):1254-1266. doi:10.7150/ijbs.4679. Available from

Monday, March 05, 2018

Lifestyle Effects on Working Memory Ability

On multiple occasions, readers of my learning and memory blog posts asked me what they could do to improve their working memory. This is an important and very practical question. Working memory affects all aspects of life success: personal, educational, and professional. I usually tell them to practice attentiveness and concentration. But I probably should tell them to adapt a healthier lifestyle.

For over a decade a variety of studies have implicated lifestyle in memory function. A rigorous new study confirms these results. An Israeli research team studied 823 participants, aged 22-37 years, using brain scans taken during a difficult memory task, post-scan memory tests, and numerous measures of health and lifestyle. The brain scans identified the brain areas that particularly engage in working memory tasks, most important of which were the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex. These then served as a frame of reference to check for correlations with health and lifestyle.

The key finding was a strong correlation between activity in working-memory brain areas and health and lifestyle. With all behavior/health variables considered together, the highest positive correlation occurred, in order, with fluid intelligence, reading, spatial orientation, picture vocabulary, several memory tests, and attentiveness.  

They observed an opposite correlation for such specific life-style indicators as large body mass index and a variety of unwise lifestyles such as binge drinking, and regular smoking. Health variables that correlated negatively with working-memory brain areas included high body-mass index, high blood pressure, poor glucose regulation.

The healthy lifestyle variables also correlated with other cognitive functions, such as fluid intelligence, reading/language skills, visuospatial orientation, sustained attention, mental flexibility and emotional intelligence, and physical endurance. Thus, the working memory benefit from healthy lifestyles seems to reflect a general improvement of brain function that good health confers.
The principle confirmed here supports the underlying theme of my recent e-book for seniors, which explained how memory serves a function like a canary in the coal mine. Memory decline is a warning signal of a damaged brain. That book explains the healthy life styles that people should be using as they age in order to keep the brain healthy and prevent memory deterioration. Changing lifestyle after the damage has already occurred may be too late. The point is that young people with healthy lifestyles have better brain function, and those lifestyles will help both body and brain to age well.
I recently published a book, “To Tell the Truth: Save Us from Concealment, Half-truths, Misrepresentation, Spin, and Fake News.” It is an inexpensive ($3.99), e-book now available at Amazon. At you can choose among several e-book formats, including pdf.


Klemm, W. R. (2014). Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine.

Moser, D. A. et al. (2017). An integrated brain-behavior model for working memory. Molecular Psychiatry. Doi: 10.1038/mp.2017.247

Monday, February 05, 2018

To Remember, Make It Weird

Memories that stick with us for a lifetime are those that fit other things we remember—but have a slightly weird twist. The most effective memory strategy is to relate new information with something you already know, but do it with a weird twist. This is the basic principle of well-known mnemonic strategies, like acrostics or "Memory Palace." The idea of acrostics is to construct a sentence in which the first letter of each word reminds you of what you are trying to remember, as in the names of the 12 cranial nerves:

"On Old Olympus Towering Tops A Finn and A German Viewed Some Hops"
(olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, auditory, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory, hypoglossal).

Acrostics and all other mnemonic aids work best if you create mental-image representations—the weirder the better. It is the  weirdness that makes things especially memorable. There are three basic techniques:

1.      Subject-Verb-Object. This linguistic sequence comes naturally to us. It is the way we speak. The mnemonic application is to create images for what you want to remember in a subject-verb-object form. For example, if you want to remember to pick up some corn, milk and sausage at the grocery store, you might mentally see yourself pushing a grocery cart in the store, throwing in a package of your favorite sausage, pouring milk on it as if you were watering a plant, and corn stalks sprout up as you approach the cashier. Weird, yes. Easy to remember, yes. If you wanted to remember the capital of Arkansas, one of the first things that might come to mind is Bill Clinton, who was governor there. Given his scandals, you might want to throw a rock at him. Visualize throwing a "little rock" at a picture of Clinton.

2.      Story Chains. With this more sophisticated method, you use the mental-image representations to create a story. You could, for example, try to memorize the order of planets around our sun by rote repetition: of mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, saturn, uranus, and neptune. But the weird, more effective way would be to create a mental image story wherein you visualize the winged warrior of mercury, who is attracted to the statue of venus; they go to the NASA image of earth to get married; they go on honeymoon taking a suitcase of mars candy bars; they divorce and go to wail at the Jewish (jupiter) wailing wall;  they die and you sit on a cremated urn (saturn) of their remains; you dump the remains on the ground and it rains on you (uranus), which  washes the ashes out past the pitchfork sign of jupiter, who reigns over the sea.

3.      Memory Palace. This is one of several “peg” systems in which memory becomes easier when you attach your image representations to known objects, such as furniture in your home “palace.” This is how I memorize the names of students. I may attach mental image representations  of their names to objects in my yard and then move mentally into various rooms in my house until I complete the class enrollment. For example, for the names Bott, Carino, Castillo, Dillawn, Eckerdt, Flores, Garrett, Grantham, and Hans, I might see the following in my mind’s eye:

As I leave my back door, I see a robot (Bott) trying to hold the door shut as I turn the knob. Then as I push the button to raise the garage door, I see the button jump off the wall to my car (Carino).  As the door rises, I see my lawn, covered not in grass but in pickles (Dillawn).  Then, going left to right, the next thing I see is my my shed, which magically has morphed into Eckerd’s drug store (Eckert). Next I see my big cedar tree which is growing out of a wood floor instead of the ground (Flores). Then I see my little raised garden bed where I see Ulyssses Grant (Grantham) leading toy soldiers in battle. Then I see my flower bush, which instead of sprouting flowers has hands (Hans) hanging from all its branches. And so on. Students are amazed I can do call the roll in order from memory. They would be even more astonished if they knew I could do it backwards or in any order. The link anchors in my “palace” are already memorized and when I see them in my mind’s eye, the images I am trying to memorize pop into mind automatically.

 I discuss these techniques and other memory principles in great detail in my memory books (students will love my 5-star e-book at See reviews of my books at the author tab of

Per Sederberg, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University says that "If we want to be able to retrieve a memory later, you want to build a rich web. It should connect to other memories in multiple ways, so there are many ways for our mind to get back to it. A memory of a lifetime is like a big city, with many roads that lead there. We forget memories that are desert towns, with only one road in. "You want to have a lot of different ways to get to any individual memory."

Once you have organized new information in a novel, weird way, rehearse it right away without distraction or interruption. New memories net time to set up, like wet concrete. The process is called consolidation, and without protection from distraction, a new memory may get erased or corrupted.


Memory Power 101 (New York: Skyhorse)

Better Grades, Less Effort (;

Ohio State University. (2017, June 19). Why the 'peculiar' stands out in our memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 20, 2017 from

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Scoring Wisdom

Most everybody believes that one becomes wiser with age and experience. People obviously vary across a wide spectrum of foolish to wise. We all have opinions about our own degree of wisdom compared to others, but is there an objective way to measure wisdom?
A group of researchers at U.C. San Diego believes that wisdom can be objectively measured. They tested their ideas on 524 adults, aged 25-104 years, selected from an on-going longitudinal investigation called the Successful Aging Evaluation (SAGE) study. The study population involved near equal numbers of males and females, with more than three-fourths claiming to be non-Latino white. A majority had some college education. The study was funded by three grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Veterans Administration, and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging.
The researchers developed a series of questions that focused on physical, cognitive, and psychosocial aspects of successful aging across the adult lifespan. Collectively, the answers provide a numerical index of wisdom that can be used to compare and judge people on the basis of presumed wisdom. Participants rated a set of statements by agreeing or disagreeing with on a scale of one to five. The statements presumably tested the degree of wisdom, covering six specific domains: 1) prosocial attitudes and behaviors such as empathy, altruism and social cooperation, 2) social decision-making/pragmatic knowledge of life, 3) emotional regulation, 4) reflection/self-understanding, 5) tolerance of diverse values, 6) and ability to effectively deal with uncertainty and ambiguity in life.
Factor analysis revealed that the scale reliably measured wisdom as defined by the questions. Thus, their questionnaire makes effective distinctions between individuals’ differing degrees of wisdom.
Limitations of the study are that responses were self-reported, not measured empirically by others. Also, the demographic was narrow (Caucasians with some higher education). Some of the assumptions could be questioned. For example, is a sense of well-being always a reliable indicator of wisdom? A person could feel good because of lucky circumstance or because of delusion. Is it always wise to be tolerant of diverse values, especially if it leads to political correctness run amuck or acceptance of an evil that needs to be overcome? How wise is it to accept ambiguity if it means avoiding the hard work of solving important problems? 
That brings us to the definition of wisdom, which is hard to define. However, we think we know it when we see it. Certainly we should seek to be wise, but not without a lot of hard thought on what that means.
The potential value of wisdom-scoring questionnaires is that they can have a teaching function of helping to show people what wisdom is by identifying its specific domains in a tangible way that could guide the striving for wisdom. Another value could be clinical evaluation of mental deterioration with age. Finally, such questionnaires could be used in screening people for suitability for admission into prestigious universities, hiring in industries requiring emotional and cognitive maturity, or acceptance into certain social groups. However, the judgmental use of such questionnaires opens the door to manipulation by the people taking the test and discrimination by those using the test results for personal judgment.
The researchers promote their "San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE)" as a new way to judge people. Society already has multiple ways to judge people: IQ scores, SAT scores, "likes" and "followers" on social media—and now on wisdom! Such indices have some valid uses, but the possibilities for abuse are enormous. Why are we always looking for ways to judge people? When people must be judged, why not emphasize what they actually do, not what their test score is?
Get the most out of life as you age. Get my e-book, "Improve Your Memory for a Healthy Brain. Memory Is the Canary in Your Brain's Coal Mine." I present research evidence to show that doing the things that help your memory will also help your brain's general functions. You can delay and may even prevent age-induced mental decline. Authoritative, well researched and documented, this book provides in-depth explanations on topics such as brain aging, relationships of memory with other brain functions, how to reduce absent-mindedness, the diseases of aging, and diet and supplements that do and do not help memory. 

Thomas, M. L. (2017). A new scale for assessing wisdom based on common domains and a neurobiological model: The San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-Wise). J. Psychiatric Res. Sep 8. DOI:

Friday, December 29, 2017

On Making Right Choices

Our lives our filled with making choices. Sometimes we make reasoned choices and sometimes we make irrational choices. The drivers of irrational choices were examined in a series of studies by Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for their work. Their experiments showed that humans will make irrational choices when the cost-benefit relations are manipulated in certain ways. They established two generic modes of cognitive function: an intuitive mode in which judgments and decisions are made automatically and rapidly, and a controlled mode, which is deliberate and slower. Cost-benefit parameters need not involve money, but they often do, such as "should I wait for the new cars go on sale" to "how much am I willing to save for retirement."

I had the good fortune back in the early 1970s when these Nobel Prize discoveries were being made to be part of a team at Texas A&M that documented and elucidated the founding "behavioral economics" concepts. We use rigorously controlled experiments with rats in an economic environment where we commoditized their food and drink. Prices were set in terms of how many lever presses they had to make to get an item. Buy the way, they normally prefer root beer over Tom Collins mix (without the alcohol). But what they "bought" was readily manipulated by changing the cost and the amount of item they could get. With certain cost-benefit conditions, they made stupid choices even to the point of making themselves sick. Our widely cited paper apparently stimulated the present-day use by drug companies to use our approach with lab animals to test new drugs for their potential to be addictive.

Today, a recent review of behavioral economics emphasizes that foundational principles of behavioral economics may help in the treatment of maladaptive choice-making, as occurs in preventive medical practices, drug addictions, obesity, and assorted compulsions. The heart of the matter is that such choices entail how much one values a desired target (like chocolate cake) and how much one values the future consequences of delaying or minimizing immediate consumption. Choices are irrational and maladaptive when a person is inadequately sensitive to long-term consequences and is controlled mostly by immediate desires.

Choices are a gamble. You can't know for certain you have made the right choice. But being paralyzed with indecision is no solution. Reason helps you understand the odds.

The mind is a strange and wonderful thing. 
Read about it in my book, Mental Biology.

Jarmolowicz, D. P., Reed, D. D., Reed, F. D. G.,  and Bickel, W. K. (2015) The behavioral and neuroeconomics of reinforcer pathologies: Implications for managerial and health decision making. Managr. Decis. Econ. DOI: 10.1002/mde.2716

Kagel, J. H., Rachlin, H., Green, L. Battalio, R. C., Basemann, R. I., and Klemm, W. R. (1975) Experimental studies of consumer demand behavior using laboratory animals. Economic Inquiry. 13, 22-38.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Production Effect in Memory

When you encounter new information and want to remember it, the formation of a memory is enormously affected by what happens immediately afterwards. The most common problem is that you think of something else, and that something else erases what you just learned from your working memory “scratchpad” before it has time to set up in long-term memory. The way to avoid this problem is to do something with the new learning right away. Memory scientists often call this a “production” effect. That is, if you produce something from the new learning right away, it not only reduces interfering distractions but also strengthens the encoding and speeds up memory formation into lasting form.

Common production activities might include using the new information in a new way, to apply it in some kind of activity, such as solving a problem. This option is not always available, but there are other approaches, such as hearing the same information at the same time you read or see it. The most common production method may be taking handwritten notes during the presentation of the new information. I have noticed that many college students do not take notes or have poor note-taking skills. Many apparently have not been taught how to take notes.

A recent study has compared the effects of silently reading, hearing somebody else read aloud, hearing a recording of yourself reading aloud, and actual reading aloud in the real-time of the learning. The last two groups tested to see if the actual mouth and tongue movements of reading aloud at the time of reading had any effect. It does.

The study divided 75 college students into these four groups in which they participated in two 15-minute sessions separated by two weeks. In the first session, they read a list of 160 words presented one at a time on a computer screen. They were to see each word and say it aloud into a microphone. They were not told why they were recording the sound of the words nor told what was to happen in the return session two weeks later.

In the follow-up session, students were randomly presented 20 of the words from the first session, according to the four groups (read silently, hear another say the words, hear the self-recording, or actively say each word). Immediately after this, students took a self-paced recognition test to identify how many of the study words were recognized.

Upon testing, a clear gradient of improvement was evident with increased production effect.

That is, poorest recognition occurred with silent reading and best recognition occurred with actively saying the words.

Why is reading aloud more effective than hearing yourself or others reading? The authors concluded that the self-reference and self-control over speaking produces more engagement with the words. The deeper the engagement, the better the memory. They also attribute the self-referencing as the explanation for why rehearsal helps memory formation. We do it ourselves and do it in our “mind’s ear.”

I think there are other implications of these findings. Other research establishes that rehearsal should require forced recall, rather than just passively looking over the study material. The data shown here suggests that rehearsal would be even more effective if we forced ourselves to recall by stating the material out loud.

Note that this study measured recognition memory. This is similar to what students do when taking a multiple-choice test: they are given prompts to see if they recognize the correct choice. This is much less demanding than requiring the student to generate the right answer “from scratch,” as in fill-in-the-blank type of question. I would expect that open-ended testing would reveal an even greater benefit from production effects, such as reading aloud. Optimal benefit would probably come from reading aloud from notes that the student took at the time of initial exposure to new information.


Forrin, N. D., and MacLeod, C. M. (2017) This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself. Memory. DOI: 10.1080/09658211.1383434.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How to Learn Critical Thinking. Learning How to Think Critically Makes You Smart.

Some readers may think you have to be smart to think critically. But a corollary is that learning how to think critically makes you smart. The assumption is that one can learn to think critically (that is, be smart). The assumption is correct. Here, I hope to show you how you can  become smarter by learning critical thinking skills.

Require Yourself to Think Critically

When you read or listening to others talk, force yourself to become more attentive and engaged with the information. Asking questions assures engagement.

Learn and Look for Common Thinking Errors

Unfortunately, most adults are not taught formal logic, even in college. College logic courses are electives and are made confusing by obtuse premises, propositions, and equations. But common-sense logic can suffice. I have posted a list of common thinking errors elsewhere (1). Here are some of the more serious thinking errors:

APPEAL TO AUTHORITY OR CONSENSUS: attempting to justify the conclusion by quoting an authority in its support or on the basis of how many people hold the same view.

ARGUMENT SELECTIVITY: glossing over alternative perspectives (often called “cherry picking.)” It is not only fair but usually helpful to include opposing positions when making arguments to support a position. Commonly, opposing arguments, even when wrong over-all, usually have some grain of truth that needs to be accommodated.

CIRCULAR REASONING: reasoning where the premise of an argument or a conclusion is used as support for the argument. Usually this happens when evidence is missing or glossed over.

COGNITIVE SHORTCUT BIAS: doggedly sticking with a favored view or argument for a position, when other more fruitful possibilities exist. Even chess masters, for example, may use an established gambit when a better tactic is available.

CONFUSING CORRELATION WITH CAUSATION. asserting that when two things happen together, and especially when one occurs just before the other, that one thing causes the other. Without other more direct evidence of causation, this assumption is not justified. Both events could be caused by something else. Example: rain and lightning go together, but neither causes the other.

EXCLUSIVITY CONFUSION. failure to recognize elements of compatibility in multiple apparently conflicting ideas or facts. It is important to know whether they are independent, compatible, or mutually exclusive. Example: concepts of evolution and creationism, as they are typically used, are mutually exclusive. However, stated in other ways, they have shared elements of agreement.

FALSE ANALOGY: explaining an idea with an analogy that is not parallel, as in comparing apples and oranges. While analogies and metaphors are powerful rhetorical tools, they are not equivalent to what they reference.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: using only a few facts for a definitive conclusion. The most common situation is failure to consider alternatives. An associated cause is failure to question and test assumptions used to arrive at a conclusion.

OVER-GENERALIZATION: assuming that what is true for one is true for something else. Example: some scientists studying free will claim that the decision-making process for making a button press is the same for more complex decisions.

Learn Specific Strategies

Be Aware of Your Thinking. Explain to students the need to think about how they think. This is the art of introspection, focused on being aware of such things as one's own degree of alertness, attentiveness, bias, emotional state, exploration of interpretation options, self-assurance.

Train Yourself to  to Focus. In today's multi-tasking world, students commonly lack the ability to concentrate. They are easily distracted. They don't listen well, and are not very effective at extracting meaning from what they read.

Use evidence-based Reasoning. Don't confuse opinion with fact. When others make a claim, don't accept it without supporting evidence. Even then, look for contrary evidence that is omitted.

Identify what is Missing. In conversation or reading, the most important points may be what is not stated. This is especially true when sometime is trying to persuade you of their viewpoint.

Ask Questions and Providing Your Own Answer. I had a professor, C. S. Bachofer at Notre Dame who built a whole course based on this principle. For every reading assignment, he required the students to ask a provocative question about the reading and then write how it might be answered. Fellow students debated each other's questions and answers. Developing this as a thinking habit will ensure you will become a more critical thinker, learn more, and provide some degree of enlightenment to others with whom you interact.

Professor Klemm is author of a 2017 book, "The Learning Skills Cycle. A Way to Rethink Educational Reform. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

(1) Klemm, W. R. (2014). Analytical thinking—logic errors 101.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Aging Shrinks the Brain

In most people, their brains get smaller as they age. It is not so much that neurons die but that their terminals and synaptic junctions shrivel. A known cause is the over-secretion of cortisol by stress, but perhaps there are also other age-related causes.
However, shrinkage with age is not inevitable. Certain people are "super-agers," defined as adults over 80 with memory at least as good as normal middle-aged adults. A usually reliable index for decline in memory ability is the degree of brain shrinkage, specifically cortical volume. Brain-scan studies show that super-agers have thicker layers of cortex than do others of the same age. Thus, their cortex has not shrunk as much as average elderly or they had more to start with. It is possible that something about the lifestyle of super-agers protected them from brain atrophy. It is not convenient to know how much cortical volume the elderly had in their youth. But the second option has been tested in a study that compared the rate of cortical aging in 36 adults averaging 83 years of age. The investigators recruited super-agers and normal elderly and tested them in an initial visit and again 18 months later. Before and after cognitive and memory tests and brain scans provided a basis for tracking the rate of aging.
Super-agers scored higher on cognitive and memory tests than the average group at both the beginning and end of the study period. This suggests that they may have been endowed with more mental capability when they were young. But it also indicates that super-agers are more resistant to age-induced mental decline. The two groups did not differ in any other neuropsychological measures, education, or estimated IQ.
A clear correlation occurred between the two groups and cortical volume. The average memory group had over twice as much cortical shrinkage over the 18 months as did the super-agers. Some in the average group lost as much as 3.4% of cortical volume per year. If that continued over the next 10 years, they would suffer a devastating loss of over 30% in cortical volume.
Unfortunately, the study did not examine the lifestyles in the two groups. The super-agers may have just had good genes or may have been more mentally active over their lifetime and had healthier diets, more exercise, and less stress than those in the average group. Notably, some shrinkage did occur in the super-agers, on average at a rate of 1.06% per year. They still scored as well as the average 50-year old on various cognitive and memory tests. It is possible that some shrinkage is a good thing, reflecting perhaps a pruning of neural circuitry as the brain learns and develops more efficiency. Pruning is a conspicuous phenomenon in the brains of the fetus and infants as maturation progresses. Obviously too much pruning can leave neural circuitry with insufficient resources.
These results also emphasize that age discrimination is not defensible. Each elderly person's mental competence has to be judged on its own merits, not on a negative stereotype of the elderly.


Rogaalski,E. J. et al. (2013) Youthful memory capacity in old brains. J. Cognitive Neuroscience. 25(1), 29-36.

Cook, Amanda H. et al. (2017). Rates of cortical atrophy in adults 80 years and older with superior vs. average episodic memory. JAMA. 317(13), 1373-1375.