Some octogenarians age slowly, researchers say

Daniel Schlessinger

Northwestern researchers are some of the foremost scientists studying “SuperAgers,” or people older than 80 who perform exceedingly well on memory tests.

“The basic idea is that a lot of studies of aging focus on people who are able to make it to the age of 80, but don’t necessarily look at their superior performance in memory,” said Feinberg School of Medicine Prof. Emily Rogalski, a study author. “What are factors that indicate what goes right in the brain versus what goes wrong?”

SuperAgers are very rare and do not suffer from as much brain atrophy and memory loss as is normal for 80-year-olds. In most cases, Rogalski said, SuperAgers are extremely active and their memory is comparable to that of a 50-year-old.

Rogalski’s group studies possible factors that characterize SuperAgers, some of which are memory, disease, language function and judgment. She said they have not yet observed a trend.

“There are some SuperAgers who have been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years and some who haven’t ever touched tobacco in their lives, while there are some who have a high education and some who never finished high school,” Rogalski said. “There’s not one recipe for becoming a SuperAger.”

The researchers have recruited about 27 participants and expect to publish the results soon.

Daniel Schlessinger