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In 1972, an 82-year-old Dutch woman sent a letter to researchers at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands) saying that she wanted to donate her body to science after she died. When the woman was 111 years old, she contacted the researchers again and asked if they could still use her body for teaching or research purposes. The scientists were very interested and when the woman was 112 years old, the researchers ran a few tests to examine her memory and attention. Tests were run on the woman again when she was 113 years old. When the woman died in 2005, she was 115 years old.
The neuropsychological tests showed that the woman had an attention span of a person who was only 60-75 years old. Her reasoning and cognitive skills were also within the normal range of a person half her age. When the woman's brain was examined after she died, the researchers found almost no abnormalities and few signs of Alzheimer's disease. The number of neurons in the locus coeruleus (a structure in the brainstem) was similar to that found in healthy people who are 60-82 years old.
This single case indicates that the brain does not have to deteriorate when someone is old. The reason why this woman had such a healthy brain at such an old age is unclear. Perhaps the woman had "good genes": the woman's mother lived to be 100 years old and her grandparents (mother's side) lived 80 and 85 years. The researchers reported that the woman was schooled at home and became a teacher at the age of 18 years, but they did not discuss the woman's lifestyle such as her diet, sleep habits or history of physical and mental exercise.
Copyright © 1996-2008, Eric H. Chudler, University of Washington