Super Agers are a group of people over the age of 80, who have retained a memory capacity equal to much younger people. They are individuals who exhibit less brain volume loss, or what is known as brain atrophy. They are people who keep the maximum brain power to the end of their life.
Super Agers Research
Dr Bradford Dickerson, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital has studied super-agers for several years. In one study, 81 healthy adults — 40 of whom were 60 to 80-years-old and 41 of whom were 18 to 35-years-old — were read a list of 16 nouns six times.
Twenty minutes later, they were asked to recall as many of the words as possible. Twenty-three of the older participants recalled nine or fewer words, a score that was considered average for their age group. Seventeen seniors — the Super-Agers — could remember 14 words or more, which was a score similar to that of younger participants.
Cognitive Super Agers
When asked what sets cognitive Super Agers apart, Dr. Dickerson says, “They approach problem-solving differently and see things as a challenge they can succeed at, in contrast to typical older adults who give up.”
Super Agers have a willingness to endure discomfort in order to master a new skill, such as playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. They keep gaining new areas of expertise. After all, “You are never too old to learn.”
Super Agers retain their social awareness and intelligence. They are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and reach beyond themselves and don’t have narcistic tendencies.
Physical Super Agers
Physical Super Agers also have scores that rival those of women who are decades younger. They appear to excel at aerobics capacity, where the amount of oxygen taken in and distributed to body tissues in one minute. This is expressed as maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2 max.
On average humans lose 10% of aerobic capacity every decade after the age of 30. People in their 80s, who exercise at high intensity for 20 to 45 minutes a day, have an aerobic capacity of people 30 years younger.
The Dangerous Age
When people are 80-years and older, they are at a greater risk for memory decline than individuals who are in their 70s or 60s. It takes effort to not only retain the memory, but to keep it working to maximum power. It is like keeping the foot on the accelerator pedal of a car and refusing to give up.
Our brain has the capacity to retain a lot more knowledge than we give it credit for. In fact, all knowledge is retained, so imagine how much memory and knowledge an 80-year-old has stored away. Sometimes it is an effort to recover that information, but the main secret is to, “Never quit.”
The older a person becomes the more he or she loses brain cells, neurons, and connections between brain cells and brain volume. This is a natural process in all humans as they age, but it can be accelerated or decelerated. It really is a case of “Use it or lose it”. Researchers say that Super Agers have less ‘brain shrinkage’, and there are simple and enjoyable things you can do to become a Super Ager.
Embrace Mental Challenges
Acrostics or mathematical games, crossword puzzles and jigsaws are all tools that help the Super Ager. Try installing new computer software or simply getting your head around anything technological.
Don’t quit the first-time things start to get tough, or you don’t get instant results. Stay with it until you become the master. Don’t let the fact that others can do it quicker and more efficiently than you impair your ability to move forward.
Many Super Agers volunteer for things like tutoring students who are trying to master English as a second language or registering voters for the next election. Join a theatre group, write poetry, or author a book. Take up a musical instrument, learn a new language, or become a presenter of workshops at a local library. Go to a nursing home and read to the residents.
Memories and laughter also play a vital part to your wellbeing. It is a mental challenge to learn to laugh at yourself and don’t waste time dwelling on negative memories. Focusing on the positive aspects of life is also very important, instead of all the doom and gloom. Walt Disney said, “Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.” This would be a great motto for Super Agers.
Exercise is not a luxury, but as vital as it is to eat well. Don’t underestimate the value of a good exercise routine, both body and the mind. The intensity, duration and frequency of your workout will rate your VO2 max.
To begin with you may tire after walking a short distance, but gradually increase the time you walk and the distance you cover. Try to do this at least three days a week. Scientists have found that even short bouts of physical activity have a positive effect on the brain.
Exercise improves memory and thinking ability in older adults. Even a one-time 10-minute burst of exercise temporarily boosts areas of the brain responsible for focus, decision-making and problem-solving. Think what a regular exercise routine could achieve. The foods we eat, the amount of sleep we get, and how much we exercise both the body and the mind, all play major roles in our wellbeing.
Age is No Barrier
The biggest deterrent to a Super Ager is considering his or her age as a barrier. “I can’t do that as I will soon be …………..” Many people look at ‘how old’ they are and stop moving forward, mentally, and physically. Just a few decades ago the age 60 was considered old. Now many consider a centenarian as old and 60 is in the prime.
You may get frustrated when you first try a new task, but don’t allow your age and body limitations to determine who and what you are. Whether it is the mind, or the body, it is a case of use it or lose. If you are experiencing difficulty with any part of the body, find a good remedial masseur for a weekly massage. It will not only keep you healthier, but it will vastly improve your feeling of wellbeing.
Reading for leisure 20-30 minutes a day increases the brain’s connectivity, makes you more empathetic, and improves your mood, to name just a few advantages.
Super Agers are Social
Super Agers are social people, and we don’t mean social media. It is all very well to have lots of followers, and ‘false friendships’, but social media can simply increase your feelings of isolation. Just as social media gives you the power to reach out to old friends and make new ones, so being aware of and increasing your brain power is more important. Keep the foot on the accelerator!
While we can enjoy our own company, human beings are social creatures. You were not born to be a ‘wallflower’ and nothing should substitute for interaction with others in a social context. Families are part of living, but you shouldn’t rely on them to be the extent of your ‘social’ activities. Friends play a major role in a person’s sense of wellbeing and Super Agers remain actively social with a wide circle of friends. They value warm and trusting relationships.
Find some local clubs and get involved, even if it is just attending some meetings. If you feel uncomfortable in one club, don’t give up. Search around until you find friendly people who have similar interests to you. Remember, no matter your age, you have something to contribute that is of value to those around you.
Another major key for Super Agers, is that they don’t lose confidence in themselves. They demonstrate amazing resilience, despite the tough knocks that life throws at them and don’t spend all their time focusing on self.
Super Agers do not allow the fear of tomorrow to rule their life. They are amazing people who refuse to allow disabilities of any kind, or fear of tomorrow to define who they are. There is an old saying “What you fear will come upon you.”
I was not only stunned but hugely encouraged when I met a spritely 95-year-old who was still driving her car. She was a Super Ager extraordinaire and did not let fear dictate what she could or could not do.
Meet Some Super Agers
Mary Robertson, ‘Grandma Moses’, the American folk artist, didn’t start painting in earnest until she was aged 78. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg began working with a personal trainer at age 68 following treatment for colon cancer.
Ann McGowan started running when she was 49 years old, following the death of her husband. Then, following a mastectomy she raced in the 1991 National Senior Games. She has since run the 100, 200, and 400-yard dashes, and has competed in long jump, discus, hammer-throw, and javelin events. At age 92, Ann McGowan is one of only eight athletes who have participated in every one of the National Senior Games since their inception in 1987.
Another Super Ager is Margaret, who dreaded the thought that she would get Alzheimer’s as her mother had. When she was 80 she signed up for the Australian imaging, Biomarker and Lifestyle study. Regular brain scans show that Margaret, at 86, has the attention and brain working capacity of the average 65-year-old, and greater than 99% of people her age. She can hold her own against her 61-year-old son, Stuart.
Margaret continues to volunteer at a community centre that helps homeless people and also does volunteer work at a local art gallery. She does pilates, goes to Probus Club, plays petanque and sings in a choir. And when she’s not catching up with friends, she’s busy with her family and grandchildren. Margaret says, “I don’t really think about people by their age. I think about them by their attitude to life.”
Ingrid Bergman said, “Getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath, but the view is much better.” Super Agers are never bored. An interesting study would be to find out if there are more women Super Agers than men. Hmmmmmmm!
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