If you haven’t yet noticed, there are more and more people entering their golden years and living healthier, more active lives for much longer than their parents and grandparents did.
Generally speaking, for the first time in known history, people are taking better care of themselves, physically and mentally.
Many older people continue to stay mentally agile and sharp well into old age. We call these individuals ‘Cognitive SuperAgers’ and the secrets behind their success are now being studied.
Cognitive super-agers are a unique group of individuals who have defied the odds and retained their mental acuity even as they age.
Scientists have been studying this population and comparing them to normal agers in order to uncover what makes them so special, and now their findings are finally being revealed.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what sets cognitive super agers apart and how you can benefit from their secrets.
With the right strategies, it may be possible to keep your mind sharp as you age – and that’s something we should all strive for!
By the way, you’ll notice that throughout reports and articles, the term super agers is also spelled as super-agers or superagers. So, no matter how you spell it, they are individuals to be followed and studied!
How Old Is A Super Ager?
Well, according to the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, considers seniors over the age of 80 as SuperAgers.
“…men and women over the age of 80 with the mental faculties of people decades younger.”
What sets these individuals apart from their peers? It could be lifestyle or genetics, but one thing is certain – they have a mindset that embraces living life to its fullest each day.
In this article, I’ll be writing about “cognitive super agers” which are individuals who maintain high levels of cognitive functioning and performance into their later years of life.
They possess exceptional memory abilities, rapid learning and adaptation, high emotional intelligence, and a positive attitude and resilience.
I would say that my mom-in-law, at 101 years of age is a cognitive super ager. She reads at least one book a week, has very little memory loss, and is able to stay on top of current events.
Research On This Population Of Seniors
There have been multiple studies conducted using cognitive testing on older adults who seem to be defying the aging process.
I want to highlight just a few of them.
Northwestern SuperAging Research Program
In a fairly new study on the population of super agers is being conducted by the Northwestern SuperAging Research Program at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and led by neuroscientist Emily Rogalski.
One of their findings revealed that this group of older adults “…harbor large, healthier neurons in layer II of the entorhinal cortex compared to their same-aged peers, individuals with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and even individuals 20 to 30 years younger.” (source)
So, the larger brain cells (Economo neurons to be exact) possessed by super agers may explain some of their remarkable abilities to stay sharp and retain knowledge.
In this same study, they discovered that their study participants showed a “…resistance to the development of fibrous tangles in a brain region related to memory which are known to be markers of Alzheimer’s disease.” – news.northwestern.edu
So, it seems that genetics plays a part, but then the question is does the lifestyle affect the genetics? Like most anything else, it’s most likely a combination of both factors.
The very first neuroimaging study on super agers was conducted in 2016 and published in The Journal of Neuroscience. It revealed the following:
- The group they studied had little to no brain atrophy.
- They had a thicker cerebral cortex than other adults in their age group.
- They had a larger hippocampus (which is a part of the brain that is needed for memory function)
- The seniors with a thicker midcingulate cortex performed better on their memory tests.
So, essentially, parts of the brain in these seniors were thicker and healthier than others in their age group.
These results indicate older adults with youthful memory abilities have youthful brain regions in key paralimbic and limbic nodes of the default mode and salience networks that support attentional, executive, and mnemonic processes subserving memory function.neurosciencenews.com
In another study by Harvard University, they were able to validate the findings of the first study and provide further insight.
They looked at the brain functional connectivity. They discovered that the brain connectivity of the study participants were indistinguishable from younger adults!
Basically, this group of seniors has a cognitive reserve that they can tap into that helps to keep them cognitively functioning at a higher level.
It is encouraging that this group of seniors can have such high-level thinking capacities despite their age.
Now, that’s amazing!
Longevity Genes Project
The research team at the Institute for Aging Research has been working on the Longevity Genes Project since 1998 with some amazing results.
Their goal is to identify genetic factors that contribute to exceptional longevity – defined as living to 95 years or older.
The project was initiated by Dr. Nir Barzilai, a professor of medicine and genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and has since grown to include collaborators at other institutions around the world.
The study has two main components: a cross-sectional analysis of centenarians and their offspring, and a longitudinal study that follows a group of healthy elderly individuals over time to investigate factors that contribute to healthy aging.
The Longevity Genes Project has identified several genetic variants that appear to be associated with exceptional longevity, including variants in the genes FOXO3A, APOE, and TOMM40.
These genes are involved in various biological processes such as DNA repair, inflammation, and metabolism, which are thought to play a role in aging and age-related diseases.
Researchers at Amsterdam’s Vrije University studied 340 centenarians who were cognitively sound at initial evaluation.
Four years later they were tested again and showed “…a slight reduction in memory, but all other cognitive domains remained stable.” – swiftaudiology.com
From these studies, it’s clear that genetics plays a role in why some seniors are able to retain their memory into their later years.
But it’s not 100% nature vs. nurture. Lifestyle also plays a role as well.
Effects Of Lifestyle Choices
There’s no doubt that challenging tasks, healthy eating and exercise all contribute to better brain function in humans.
Some people win the genetic lottery and will naturally live better longer. But experts say our genes only account for about 20%-30% of our longevity. That means we can affect the majority of our aging — about 70%-80% — through lifestyle.webmd.com
The 90+ Study began in 2003 and includes about 1600 participants. This study focused on how these individuals lived and how they were affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Their findings include:
- Moderate intake of alcohol and coffee.
- Overweight individuals (in their 70’s) lived longer than normal or underweight.
- Superagers had very close relationships with others and maintained a social lifestyle.
- Regular exercise of 15 minutes to 45 minutes a day.
- Having a hobby.
Other additional lifestyle factors that I would include are:
- Hearing aids: Untreated hearing loss can lead to depression and other mental health issues, so it’s important to take steps to ensure that seniors with hearing loss have access to effective treatment options.
- Higher education: Having a higher education can enable seniors to stay mentally active, engaged and curious.
- Good sleep: Getting good quality sleep can help seniors with their overall mental health and physical well-being.
- Healthy diet: Eating healthy foods full of essential nutrients can help seniors to maintain their energy levels and support their immune system.
- Stay connected: Socializing with friends and family can help seniors to stay connected and engaged in the world around them.
- Exercise: Participating in regular physical activities like walking, swimming, or cycling can help seniors to improve their physical health while also being a great way to have fun and make new friends.
- Leisure activities: Pursuing hobbies and leisure activities like art, music, and gardening can help seniors to stay mentally sharp and entertained.
- Mental health: Taking care of mental health is an important part of maintaining overall health. It’s important for seniors to find ways to reduce stress, including meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, or simply taking some quiet time.
- Social support: Keeping in touch with family and friends can help seniors to stay connected, have meaningful conversations, and share stories from their lives. This social support can also provide emotional stability and a sense of belonging.
- Meditation: Taking time out of your day to relax and meditate can help seniors to reduce stress levels and improve their mental health.
For older adults, hearing loss is much more than a nuisance—it’s a risk factor for cognitive decline and even dementia!
The Lancet Commission recently confirmed that taking steps to address this issue could drastically reduce the chances of developing these conditions.
In general, it is known that lifestyle factors such as physical and mental exercise—for example, acquiring new skills through physical activities, sports, games, and learning opportunities; certain practices, such as guided relaxation and meditation; and sound nutrition—all positively affect brain health,” says Dr. Giordanowellandgood.com
So, although genetics plays a role in the development of super agers, research is showing that lifestyle factors also appear to be important.
What Are The Characteristics Of A Super Ager?
Cognitive super agers possess a unique set of cognitive and psychological traits that allow them to maintain high levels of cognitive functioning and performance into their later years of life.
Some of the characteristics of cognitive super agers include:
- High levels of cognitive functioning: Cognitive super agers demonstrate exceptional cognitive abilities, such as working memory, attention, and information processing speed.
- Ability to learn and adapt quickly: Cognitive super agers are able to learn and adapt quickly to new information and situations, which is a key component of cognitive flexibility.
- Exceptional memory abilities: Cognitive super agers have exceptional memory abilities, including both episodic memory (the ability to remember events and experiences) and semantic memory (the ability to remember facts and knowledge).
- High emotional intelligence: Cognitive super agers possess high emotional intelligence, which allows them to understand and manage their own emotions and those of others.
- Positive attitude and resilience: Cognitive super agers have a positive attitude and are resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks. They tend to have a high level of optimism and a growth mindset, which allows them to persist in the face of difficulties.
Overall, cognitive super agers possess a unique combination of cognitive, emotional, and psychological traits that enable them to maintain exceptional cognitive abilities into their later years of life.
What Are The Top 3 Habits They Share?
There is ongoing research on the habits and factors that contribute to cognitive super aging.
While there is no definitive list of “super ager habits,” some of the top habits that have been found to be associated with cognitive super aging include:
- Engaging in regular cognitive and physical exercise: Cognitive super agers tend to engage in regular cognitive activities, such as reading, playing games, or doing puzzles, which help to maintain and improve cognitive function. They also engage in regular physical exercise, which has been shown to improve brain health and cognitive function.
- Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle: Cognitive super agers tend to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, regular sleep, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. They also tend to maintain social connections and engage in activities that promote mental and emotional well-being.
- Having a positive attitude and resilience: Cognitive super agers tend to have a positive attitude and are resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks. They tend to have a growth mindset and believe that they can continue to learn and improve, which helps them to persist in the face of difficulties and maintain their cognitive abilities over time.
While these habits may not guarantee cognitive super aging, they are associated with better cognitive health and may help to delay or prevent age-related cognitive decline.
How To Become A Cognitive Superager
Becoming a part of this elite group is not only possible, it’s easier than you might think!
There’s not much that you can do about your genetics, but there is SO MUCH that you can do as far as how you live your life.
Here are some steps that individuals can take to reduce risk factors, promote healthy cognitive aging and improve their chances of becoming a cognitive super ager:
- Engage in regular cognitive and physical exercise: Engaging in regular cognitive activities, such as reading, playing games, or doing puzzles, can help to maintain and improve cognitive function. Regular physical exercise has also been shown to improve brain health and cognitive function.
- Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, getting regular sleep, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help to maintain cognitive health and prevent age-related cognitive decline.
- Stay socially engaged: Maintaining social connections and engaging in activities that promote mental and emotional well-being can help to promote cognitive resilience and delay age-related cognitive decline.
- Challenge your brain: Challenging your brain by learning new things, taking up new hobbies, or trying new activities can help to promote cognitive flexibility and maintain cognitive function.
- Practice mindfulness and stress management: Practicing mindfulness and stress management techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing, can help to reduce stress and promote emotional well-being, which can in turn promote cognitive health.
While there is no guaranteed way to become a cognitive super ager, these steps can help to promote healthy cognitive aging and improve overall cognitive function.
By adopting these habits, individuals can improve their chances of maintaining their cognitive abilities into their later years of life.