White matter integrity, hippocampal volume, and cognitive performance of a world-famous nonagenarian track-and-field athlete

A. Z. Burzynska, C. N. Wong, L. Chaddock-Heyman, E. A. Olson, N. P. Gothe, A. Knecht, M. W. Voss, E. McAuley, A. F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Physical activity (PA) and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) are associated with successful brain and cognitive aging. However, little is known about the effects of PA, CRF, and exercise on the brain in the oldest-old. Here we examined white matter (WM) integrity, measured as fractional anisotropy (FA) and WM hyperintensity (WMH) burden, and hippocampal (HIPP) volume of Olga Kotelko (1919–2014). Olga began training for competitions at age of 77 and as of June 2014 held over 30 world records in her age category in track-and-field. We found that Olga’s WMH burden was larger and the HIPP was smaller than in the reference sample (58 healthy low-active women 60–78 years old), and her FA was consistently lower in the regions overlapping with WMH. Olga’s FA in many normal-appearing WM regions, however, did not differ or was greater than in the reference sample. In particular, FA in her genu corpus callosum was higher than any FA value observed in the reference sample. We speculate that her relatively high FA may be related to both successful aging and the beneficial effects of exercise in old age. In addition, Olga had lower scores on memory, reasoning and speed tasks than the younger reference sample, but outperformed typical adults of age 90–95 on speed and memory. Together, our findings open the possibility of old-age benefits of increasing PA on WM microstructure and cognition despite age-related increase in WMH burden and HIPP shrinkage, and add to the still scarce neuroimaging data of the healthy oldest-old (>90 years) adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-144
Number of pages10
JournalNeurocase
Volume22
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 3 2016

Keywords

  • MRI
  • Physical activity
  • aging
  • fitness
  • memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Neurology

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