Age and Dementia Don't Have to Go Hand in Hand
But the other six had no evidence of mental decline, says Morris. He says, however, that "we have no idea why these six survived intact. ... They had a wide range of occupations and they came from diverse ethnic backgrounds." He says that when they died, not only was there no evidence of Alzheimer's disease in their brains but also no evidence of stroke, a finding that ties into Haan's data on heart disease risk factors and risk for mental decline.
Zaven S. Khachaturian, PhD, senior scientific advisor of the Alzheimer's Association, takes the case for healthy aging of the brain a few steps further. He tells WebMD, "there is no such thing as an aging brain in the sense that it connotes some pivotal event or period when something happens that is not desirable. Aging of the brain is a continuous, linear process that begins at conception. Moreover, the brain is a unique organ in that it has enormous recuperative characteristics and the ability to constantly rewire itself and regenerate for more efficient operation. So, we are actually given a set of neurons with a lifetime guarantee."
Khachaturian, who is a former director of the office of Alzheimer's disease research at NIH, says that when mental difficulties arise, it is not a function of aging "but rather of disease." He says that both physicians and the public are resistant to this concept.
For example, he says that the 90-year-old who visits a physician complaining of a painful left knee is often told that the pain is a normal side effect of aging. "But the 90-year-old thinks, and then points out, that his other knee doesn't hurt and it, too, is 90 years old," says Khachaturian. Knee pain, he says, is probably caused by inflammation, a physical cause, he says. He adds that the same case should be made for mental decline.