Secrets of ‘SuperAgers’ who possess brains as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger

Despite volunteering and working out at the gym several days each week, socializing frequently with friends and family, reading all manner of books and doing daily crossword puzzles, 85-year-old Carol Siegler is restless.

“I’m bored. I feel like a Corvette being used as a grocery cart,” said Siegler, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Palatine.

Siegler is a cognitive “SuperAger,” possessing a brain as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger. She is part of an elite group enrolled in the Northwestern SuperAging Research Program, which has been studying the elderly with superior memories for 14 years. The program is part of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“I’ve auditioned twice for ‘Jeopardy!’ and did well enough on it to be invited to the live auditions. Then Covid hit,” said Siegler.

“Who knows how well I would have done,” she added with a chuckle.“What I have told my children and anybody else who asked me: ‘I may know an awful lot about Beethoven and Liszt, but I know very little about Beyoncé and Lizzo.’”

To be a SuperAger, a term coined by the Northwestern researchers, a person must be over 80 and undergo extensive cognitive testing. Acceptance in the study only occurs if the person’s memory is as good or better than cognitively normal people in their 50s and 60s.

“SuperAgers are required to have outstanding episodic memory — the ability to recall everyday events and past personal experiences — but then SuperAgers just need to have at least average performance on the other cognitive tests,” said cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg School of Medicine.

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