Saturday, 1 April 2023

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Who are ‘SuperAgers’ | Fortune Well

Who are 'SuperAgers' | Fortune Well

Most of us fear the cognitive decline assumed to come with aging—more specifically, losing our memory, motivation, and focus. 

But for some people, as they get older, 80 is the new 50. 

Research shows a fortunate cohort seems to escape the type of memory-related brain decline historically associated with aging, at least according to their brain scans: introducing the SuperAgers. 

The term originated roughly 15 years ago at Northwestern University as doctors began studying successful aging, which at the time did not have a formal definition, says Dr. Emily Rogalski, director of the SuperAging Research Initiative. 

As people join the 80-plus cohort at exceedingly fast rates, new research examining brain health has begun to fascinate scientists and the public alike.  

“There has been this notion out there that cognitive decline is inevitable, and that the only thing that can happen is performance goes down as we age,” Rogalski tells Fortune, who also serves as the associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology & Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “While that might be true…there are people who are living long and living well.” 

SuperAgers are people over age 80 who maintain memory capabilities consistent with people in their 50s and 60s—or about 20 to 30 years younger than their age, according to Rogalski and her team at Northwestern (although other researchers have defined it as people around retirement age, or over the age of 65 who have more youthful brains). 

Changes in memory can be signs of cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, so understanding the brains of SuperAgers may offer insightful takeaways on these diseases, Rogalski says. 

While researchers haven’t been able to calculate precisely how many SuperAgers live among us, the trait is relatively rare. Less than 10% of people Rogalski studied who thought they had strong memories met their SuperAger criteria, which focuses on the size of the brain. 

SuperAgers’ brains shrink at slower rates 

Memory peaks between ages 30 and 40, and overall brain volume begins to decline between ages 50 and 80, Rogalski says, although everyone’s brains differ.  

Research shows SuperAgers’ brains shrink at slower rates than their peers of the same age, specifically maintaining volume in areas associated with memory and focus. SuperAgers’ anterior cingulate is thicker…

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