I aspire to be a superager like my friend, Jeanette. I recently attended her 90th birthday party and was so awed, I asked if I could blog about her.
DEFINING A SUPERAGER
A superager is an individual over 80 with a memory at least as good as those of people who are 20 to 30 years younger.
The National Institute of Aging explains that brainpower normally declines as people age. However, some people remain sharp into their 80s and beyond. They do much better on memory tests such as remembering past events or recalling a list of words, compared with other adults their age.
Before you get too excited, turns out that superagers are quite rare, according to cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, who leads the SuperAging Research Initiative across five cities around the United States and Canada. Less than 10 percent of those who sign up to participate in her studies meet the scientific criteria.
Turns out whether your brain defies wear and tear is an important part of it. I won’t bore you with all the mumbo jumbo of fatter types of cells or thicker cingulate cortexes, because, frankly, at present, we can’t do anything about this. It is what it is.
HABITS OF A SUPERAGER
However, we can do something about our habits. Turns out superagers have some things in common.
- Superagers live an active lifestyle. Even exercising twice a week helps lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. Did you know that the risk for developing Alzheimer’s triples in individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30?
- Superagers continue to challenge themselves with mental activity. Learning something new, whether it be reading about things they are unfamiliar with, working puzzles, or taking classes to broaden their horizons is part of their lifestyle.
- Superagers are social butterflies. They have strong social relationships.
- Superagers indulge. OK, this is my favorite. People who drink moderately are 23% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or signs of memory problems than those who do not drink alcohol. The key is moderation.
ADVICE FROM MY SUPERAGER FRIEND
Jeanette is a volunteer with me at the Historic N.W. Faison House in La Grange, Texas. Just before her birthday, we were there trimming the bushes. She reluctantly let me do it with the electric clippers after warning me to watch out as it was easy to cut the electrical cord. Of course, I promptly did. While I trimmed, she raked. Another time, we were working on the door because it kept flying open. She walked me through adjusting the striker plate, then took it to the muffler shop and asked them to make the hole a bit larger. She knows everyone and who to go to get things done.
We are not the only organization she volunteers with. I know of at least two others. She lives alone, likes to go deer hunting, and is deeply involved with church and family.
Oh, and at the party, I was eating a cookie cookies and told her how good it was they were. (Just trying to be honest here.) She said, “I made them.”
What’s her secret? She told me she likes to stay busy.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE SUPERAGER GROUP
With the state of science today, our brains cannot be retooled to stop aging. And, while we can adopt healthy lifestyles, that alone will not stop mental decline. One thing we can all do, however, is learn to look at an older person and not make assumptions about their mental acuity. He/she just might be a superager.