Memory loss is often seen as simply a side effect of aging. As terrifying as it is to lose your identity and your independence, you probably view it as inevitable. However, new research from Northwestern University has shown that some elderly individuals maintain their memory and brain function well into their senior years. How do SuperAgers seem to defy the side effects of aging, while their peers succumb to its effects more easily?
What Is a SuperAger?
SuperAgers are elderly individuals, normally between the ages of 70 and 80, who maintain the cognitive function of those much younger. They generally have the same level of independence as someone in their fifties or sixties and are socially active. They have clearer memories, both of subjects they learned in youth and of their own experience, than most others their age. In short, SuperAgers appear not to age mentally.
All About the Brain:
The secret to SuperAgers lies in their unusual brains. When examined through MRI technology, SuperAgers have brains that more closely resemble the brains of those who are 50-60 years old, instead of those of an individual in their seventies or eighties. The MRI scans showed three characteristics of these brains: a thicker anterior cingulate cortex, less neurofibrillary brain tangles, and a higher number of von Economo neurons. Both the cortex and the neurons control memory indirectly through social functions, such as decision making and motivation. Similarly, the low number of tangles indicate a healthier brain that does not destroy healthy neurons, which allows for improved memory function. These factors combined allow individuals to remain mentally acute for far longer than originally thought possible.
Behaviors of The SuperAger:
While researchers have not yet determined whether the differences in SuperAger’s brains are related to genetics or environment, they did note that two of the three characteristics are related to social function. And, as it turns out, SuperAgers are unusually active in their communities; typically they volunteer, or spend time with like-minded individuals by pursuing a new hobby. It is possible that SuperAgers are able to maintain their youthful intelligence by simply refusing to act “old.” They keep their minds, body, and hearts active and in doing so, are able to stave off aging.
You may have heard that “age is just a number,” and those who are categorized as SuperAgers would likely agree with that assessment. So, when you are planning for your later years, plan to act young. Go skydiving, do crossword puzzles, spend time with family, and use your retirement to do the things you always dreamed of doing. If the new theories are correct, then you’ll be able to maintain your youth far longer than originally thought!