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Calling All SuperAgers!

A new study run by the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has put out a call for all superagers.

What is a superager? A man or woman at least 80 years of age who has the memory of someone much, much younger.

The foundation of the study stemmed from lead researcher, neuroscientist Emily Rogalski’s, interest in the varying memory capacity seen in older people. After observing patients at her clinic, Rogalski noticed that while memory does decline with age for most, some older patients maintained exceptionally robust memories.

Curious, Rogalski recruited volunteers who were at least 80 years of age and subjected them to memory tests, including, listening to, and then recalling after 30 minutes, a list of 15 words, and listening to a lengthy story and then recalling specific details. Of the volunteers, Rogalski found that around 1 in 10 had outstanding memories that were just as good, if not better than, the memory of someone 30 years younger.

She named this special group of individuals superagers.

Rogalski then performed MRI brain scans on her group of superagers. After reviewing the scans, she discovered that the brains of superagers all had unusually thick frontal cortices, the outer layer of the brain which normally shrinks with age, as well as unusually thick anterior cingulate cortices, which lies deeper within the brain.

Rogalski hopes that continuing to studying the brains of superagers will give her team more insight into what maintains a person’s memory, and also into how to prevent memory loss for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Unfortunately, Rogalski has found that superagers are few and far between. Of the more than 400 people screened for the continuation of the study, only 35 have met the criteria, and so far, there is no distinguishing correlation between life style and memory preservation. Three of Rogalski’s 35 patients include a “96-year-old retired neuroscientist, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor, and an 81-year-old pack-a-day smoker who drinks a nightly martini.”

So for now, Rogalski is still calling all superagers for preliminary testing.

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Sources:

TANNER, LINDSEY. “Study Seeks Super Agers’ Secrets to Brain Health.” Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 14 Jan. 0000. Web. 22 Aug. 2013.

Trudeau, Michelle. “Inside The Brains Of People Over 80 With Exceptional Memory.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2013.

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