By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS NYTIMES
At the age of 93, Olga Kotelko — one of the most successful and acclaimed nonagenarian track-and-field athletes in history — traveled to the University of Illinois to let scientists study her brain.
Ms. Kotelko held a number of world records and had won hundreds of gold medals in masters events. But she was of particular interest to the scientific community because she hadn’t begun serious athletic training until age 77. So scanning her brain could potentially show scientists what late-life exercise might do for brains.
Ms. Kotelko died last year at the age of 95, but the results of that summer brain scan were published last month in Neurocase.
And indeed, Ms. Kotelko’s brain looked quite different from those of other volunteers aged 90-plus who participated in the study, the scans showed. The white matter of her brain — the cells that connect neurons and help to transmit messages from one part of the brain to another — showed fewer abnormalities than the brains of other people her age. And her hippocampus, a portion of the brain involved in memory, was larger than that of similarly aged volunteers (although it was somewhat shrunken in comparison to the brains of volunteers decades younger than her).