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Super-Ager’s Brain Donated To Science

4 weeks, 1 day ago

1890  0
Posted on Jun 14, 2024, 11 a.m.

Morrie Markoff, listed as the oldest living American man, died on June 3rd, 2024, he was 110 years old, and what a full life this centenarian led. Now his brain will be studied by scientists to learn more about the aging process, and why some people gradually experience cognitive decline and dementia while others, like Markoff, are super-agers who remain healthy and quick as a pistol to the very end.

Morrie was born in New York; he had an eighth-grade education and was a lifelong learner. He was a trained machinist and moved West where he met and married his Wife Betty in 1938 and then started his own business. 

During their 80-some-year marriage, they raised two children and traveled around the World to places like Mexico, China, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. The couple liked to explore the World around them and be active by walking three miles together every day well into their ninth decade. Betty herself was also a super-ager, reaching the age of 103 before she died in 2019 after living a full fun-loving, and adventurous life.

Lots of hobbies

Morrie kept his mind challenged throughout his life. He liked to do sculpture and photography, he blogged, and he authored a book at the tender age of 99. He was a very inquisitive man, maintaining an innate intellectual curiosity for his entire life. He discovered Wikipedia and other sources of vast stores of information that he enjoyed perusing. 

"We’re all very aware of how lucky we were to have him around," his daughter Judith Hansen said. "He’s very much in our minds – he was quite the character."

Organ donation

When it comes to aging and age-related diseases it is useful to study the brains of those who lived with diseases such as CTE, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological conditions. However, it is also important to study healthy brains, explains Tish Hevel, CEO of the Brain Donor Project

"People think it's just for those who have these diseases, but you need a control for comparison," said Hevel. "There are a lot of studies being done about aging and people we call 'super agers,' and scientists want to know why some people are super-agers."

The Brain Donor Project was founded in 2018 in honor of Gene Armentrout, who was Hevel's father, who died of Lewy Body Dementia, to raise awareness of brain donation. However, just opting to be an organ donor does not mean a brain can be donated to science. The brain is not like other organs that can be transplanted, they can only be used for scientific study. Potentially lifesaving organ harvesting typically takes place when a person dies unexpectedly. 

The brain is not like other organs

"A lot of people don't know it's a separate procedure to donate the brain, and a very small percentage of us die in a way that organs are usable for transplant," Hevel said. "In some ways, the brain has a better chance of satisfying the deceased's wishes" for their body to benefit others.

The Brain Donor Project assists people who wish to start the process of donating their brain to science. Additionally,  the U.S. National Institutes for Health NeuroBioBank works with research institutions all over the World to provide the tissues needed for their studies. 

"The brain is the source of personal identity," Hevel said. "It's incredibly intimate, and that's what's really thrilled me, that so many people are motivated to donate."

The brain is rather unique and not like the kidney, heart, liver, or other organs. According to Hevel, families have told her that post-mortem examinations are the only diagnosis they received offering posthumous explanations for conditions contributing to their loved one's death that they could only have guessed at without a look at brain tissues.

"(Donors) are so altruistic," she said. "They donate because they don't want another family to go through what theirs did. They're so giving and unselfish, and it's such a powerful gift to give to us all."

An active family

If you asked him, Morrie wasn’t exactly shy about why he remained so vital into his 100’s, said his daughter Judith who is now 81 years old. She explains that she and her brother were raised by two parents who never stopped being active, and they loved to engage with the World around them which they found so interesting. 

They traveled the World extensively, and Morries loved to take photographs of them at all of their destinations. Neither of their parents had much of a formal education, but you would never know it as they hosted get-togethers with friends and had lively discussions about politics and current events. 

Morrie and Betty were active parents, they became grandparents and were lucky enough to even become grandparents. They enjoyed walking around a lake near their home in Los Angeles holding hands every day. Morrie experienced a heart attack when he was 99 which took away his photography hobby, so he took up writing as a hobby instead. 

Staying engaged 

After the death of his wife, Morrie was helped by his caregiver Rosario Reyes, whom his daughter credits with helping her father to remain healthy and happy, calling her an angel. Judith was caring for her ailing husband while making sure her father was also being looked after. Reyes was employed to assist Morrie and she made sure that he could continue to do things he enjoyed, like reading the newspapers on a tablet when he was struggling to read it in small fine print. 

"I firmly believe it was being involved with the world," Judith said when asked why she thought her dad's cognitive abilities held fast for so long.

"So many people make their circle very small (when they grow old). But with Mom and Dad both it wasn’t just the family, it was the world. ... They were both very attuned to the world and what was happening. They were always curious and inquisitive."

Discovering the Brain Donor Project

Morries was in hospice care for a short period of time before he died after experiencing a stroke. Judith was able to visit with her father before he died, and during this time she reflected on his adventurous life, thinking about his remarkable mind. This is when she discovered the Brain Donor Project and reached out to Hevel. 

"He would have been so happy to know his brain was going to be studied," Judith said. "He really believed in science. I had joked with him about donating organs. I said, well, 'Pap, I don’t think they’ll want yours because they’re so old.'”

However, that is exactly why Morrie Markoff’s brain is worth studying, he was an exceptional longevity warrior. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. Additionally, it is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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References/Sources/Materials provided by:

T.W. at WHN

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