Posts Tagged ‘Superagers’

An Active Social Life May Be a Secret to Brain Health

March 1, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 2 January 2108 issue of the Washington Post. This title should not be news to readers of the healthy memory blog post, but this article provides additional evidence to buttress further this already established fact. Ms. Graham begins by telling a story about her 103-year-old friend Edith Smith who talks about her friends. One is Katie who is 93 and whom Smith met during a long teaching career with the Chicago Public Schools. She said that every day they have a good conversation and that Katie is still driving and lives in her own house.

Then there’s Rhea, 90, whom Smith visits regularly at a retirement facility, and Mary, 95, who doesn’t leave her house anymore so Smith fixes her a basket of jelly and little things she makes and sends it over by cab about once a month. And there are Smith’s fellow residents at a Chicago senior home she recognizes with a card and a treat on their birthdays. When asked to describe herself Smith says that she is a very friendly person. This is likely one reason this 103-year-old has an extraordinary memory for someone her age.

The article goes on to report a recent study highlighting a notable link between brain health and positive relationships. Emily Rogalski at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine has been examining “Superagers” for nine years. Superagers are men and women older than 80 whose memories are as good or better than people 20 to 30 years younger. Every couple in the group fills out surveys about their lives and gets a battery of neuropsychological tests, brain scans, and neurological examination, along with other evaluations.

Thirty-one older men and women with exceptional memories, mostly from Illinois and surrounding states are participating in the project. Previous research showed that a SuperAgers have distinctive brain features: thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy. and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory).

Rogalski thinks that brain structure alone doesn’t fully account for Superagers’ unusual mental acuity. She said, “It’s likely there are a number of critical factors that are implicated.

In a new study, researchers asked 31 SuperAgers and 19 cognitively normal older adults to fill out a 42-item questionnaire about their psychological well-being. The SuperAgers stood out in one area: the degree to which they reported having satisfying, warm, trusting relationships.

This finding is consistent with other research linking positive relationships to a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment,and dementia. These researchers still haven’t examined how SuperAgers sustain these relationships and whether their experiences might include lessons for others.

Smith is one of nine people who welcome new residents to her retirement community and make them feel at home. She said “Many older people tell you the same story over and over. And sometime all they do is complain and not show any interest in what your have to say. That’s terrible. You have to listen to what people have to say.”

The administrator of the Bethany Retirement Community, where Smith lives, calls Smith a “leader in the community. She’s very involved, She keeps us in line. She notices what’s going on and isn’t afraid to speak out.

William “Bill” Gurolnick, 86, another SuperAger, realized the value of becoming more demonstrative after he retired from a sales and marketing position in 1999. He explained, “Men aren’t usually inclined to talk about their feelings, and I was a keep-things-inside kind of person. But opening up to other people is one of the things that I learned to do.”

Gurolnick helped found a men’s group, Men Enjoying Leisure, which now has nearly 150 members and has spawned four similar groups in the Chicago suburbs. Every month, the group meets for two hours, including one hour they spend discussing personal issues—divorce, illness, children who can’t find jobs and more.

These stories are both informative and inspirational.