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Researchers seek out more 'super agers'

August 29, 2013

A group of men and women in their 80s and 90s are changing the way many people view senior living, and researchers are hoping to find more of them. Known as "super agers," these older adults have brains that resemble those of people decades younger and have helped re-shape the common perception of how the brain ages. Experts at Northwestern University believe these individuals could hold the key to healthy aging, The Associated Press reported.

Few super agers exist
While the research team is looking for additional volunteers for the study, which hopes to uncover some modifiable factors that can help seniors reap the benefits of super agers, there are not many out there. Only about 35 of the 400 people who have been screened for the trial thus far have met the criteria. On paper, it wouldn't seem as if those who have made the cut have anything in common. On one end there's a 92-year-old retired neuroscientist and on the other end of the spectrum is an 81-year-old who smokes a pack a day is on a martini-a-day regimen.

There are some similarities, however, including a thicker-than-normal outer layer of the brain and an anterior cingulate that's bigger than that of most 50- or 60-year-olds. Emily Rogalski, one of the study's authors, hopes her work will improve the quality of life for future seniors.

"We're living long but we're not necessarily living well in our older years, and so we hope that the super aging study can find factors that are modifiable and that we'll be able to use those to help people live long and live well," she told the AP.

Lifestyle changes may help
While it remains to be seen what findings can be gleaned from Rogalski's work, previous research suggests there may be some lifestyle changes that can help seniors improve their brain function, even if they don't reach super ager status. A 2012 study out of the University of British Columbia found that weight training and walking may be the two best ways for seniors to improve their cognitive function. The findings, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, revealed that study participants who took part in resistance training and aerobic exercise performed better on memory tests as well as physiological functioning assessments compared to the beginning of the trail.