Some people’s brains are aging at a rate much slower than average. They are called SuperAgers, men, and women over the age of 80 with the mental faculties of people decades younger. Emily Rogalski, Ph.D., has been studying SuperAgers for a decade and reveals some fascinating findings about their brains and lives. In this article, we shall discuss what makes someone a super ager and how you can become one.
A supercharger, also known as a super-ager, is a person who is at least eighty years of age and retains the memory skills and capacity of someone at least thirty years younger. This population falls well outside the “normal” memory skill range for people their age.
Studies about the brain differences of super-agers are still being conducted, and while there is likely a biological element to why a person does or does not become a super ager, lifestyle habits can improve a person’s chances of becoming one.
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The History of SuperAgers
The term “superager” was coined by The Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease,1 which is located at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Their definition of a super ager is “adults over age 80 who have the memory capacity of individuals who are at least 3 decades younger.” They coined the term in the year 2008.
The Mesulam Center is currently conducting studies to determine the genetic, brain, and lifestyle factors that help a person retain their memory so much better than their peers. Their research tactics involve brain imaging, blood study, paper surveys, and brain donation.
Signs of Being a SuperAger
From a layperson’s perspective, there is one main sign of being a super ager: You remember more than others in your age group. But from a scientific perspective, there are numerous factors that determine if a person is a super ager. The following is true of people over eighty years old who are super agers:
- Their brains look twenty to thirty years younger than their age when imaged.
- Their brains resist cortical shrinkage, which means that their brains have not shrunk, also known as atrophied, in ways that are common for others of their age group.
- They lose 1.06% of their brain volume annually, compared to 2.24% of their peers.
- Their brains have higher levels of a specific type of neuron, called Von Economo neurons.
- The fibers in their brains do not get tangled in the ways that are markers of Alzheimer’s disease.
Can You Become a SuperAger?
Even though studies about super agers continue to be underway, there’s no doubt that some factors of being one are likely biological. In the same way that some people are born with higher intellect than others, it’s safe to assume that some people’s bodies and brains are simply inclined to resist certain symptoms of aging better than others.
However, even with the knowledge that there is probably a genetic component to becoming a super ager, The Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease does think that lifestyle factors play a role in the retention of brain cells. Let’s take a look at their suggestions for helping your brain remain as strong as possible as you grow older.
How to Improve Your Memory as You Age
There are several different lifestyle habits that you can adopt to increase your chances of becoming a super ager. While these lifestyle habits don’t have any way to guarantee that you’ll become one, the good news is that they are all healthy habits to adopt in general. They have the potential to increase your well-being, happiness, and fitness, in addition to helping improve your brain power and memory.
Challenge Yourself Mentally
The saying “get comfortable being uncomfortable” applies well to those who want to become super-agers. In order to keep your brain strong, it’s important to perform activities that fall outside your comfort zone. Neuroplasticity is our brains’ ability to change as we learn new things; that means that the act of learning something new can actually enable your brain to change physically.
Of course, you don’t have to do anything unpleasant in challenging your brain: The goal is to be able to do things that are outside your comfort zone, not that make you miserable! There are many ways to keep your brain strong with activities you enjoy. Some ways you might choose to challenge yourself mentally include:
- Learn a new language
- Take an online or in-person class
- Play word games, do puzzles, or play board games
- Break your routine, such as by taking new routes on errands
- Learn a craft, such as knitting or crocheting
It’s well known that exercise is good for both your physical and your mental health, so it’s no surprise that super-agers tend to be active. However, you don’t have to go to the gym if that isn’t something you enjoy. There are many ways to be active, and if you do the ones you enjoy most, you’ll be the most likely to stick with them over time. Some activities that aren’t standard calisthenics or weight training exercises but still raise your heart rate and are beneficial are:
- Swimming or other water activities
- Taking the stairs instead of an elevator
Eat Vital Nutrients
Just like it’s common knowledge that being active is good for your longevity, most people also know that eating well can help you to live a more nourished life. Some nutrients are particularly good for your brain, and others can detract from its ability to perform well. In addition to eating less sugar, you’ll want to ensure you eat sufficient amounts of the following nutrients that help your brain thrive. These foods have been shown to help protect your brain from decline:
- Leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, and kale
- Fatty fish
- Coffee and tea
Be Social and Enjoy Life
The team at Northwestern note that “SuperAgers tend to report strong social relationships with others.” It’s actually a good thing for your brain to keep social connections as you grow older, and your brain will benefit from socializing with others in person. Maintaining connections with others can be an excellent choice in general for your mental health, as it can help stave off loneliness and depression.
In addition to spending time with friends, super agers know to focus on more than just a healthy lifestyle—they also have fun. Some consume alcohol moderately, which, provided it is not overconsumed, helps to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.11 Whatever you enjoy, make sure that you keep space in your schedule for it. And if you enjoy it with a friend, that’s even better.
In summary, it’s normal to experience cognitive decline as you age, and women may experience its onset more quickly than men do. If you have noticed that your memory is not as strong as it used to be, it’s worth seeing a professional to rule out any illness such as Alzheimer’s Disease.