Just one more example of how life is unfair: we don’t all age equally. You’ve probably noticed that some senior citizens struggle mightily with memory while others are practicing neurosurgeons or sitting Supreme Court Justices. Medical researchers have noticed, and Northwestern School of Medicine neurologist Marsel Mesulam has gone as far as to coin a new term for these sharp seniors: “superagers.”1
You might have thought that these seniors were just a lucky handful. Or that aging just takes its toll differently on different people. But now there’s new research suggesting that the secret to these elderly brainiacs’ mental acuity isn’t genetic; in fact, it’s something that we can all do.
How 'Super-Agers' Retain Young Memories
To understand how superaging is possible for any of us, we need to first understand the science behind the phenomenon. A team at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has recently shed quite a bit of light on differences in elderly brains.2
Using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, the researchers first set out to understand exactly how the brain works. You may think this sounds simple, but there is actually considerable confusion even within the field of neuroscience over the brain’s mechanism of operation.
What the MGH team found flew in the face of conventional wisdom. Instead of separate “cognitive” and “emotional” regions of the brain, there was more of an interconnected tangle. In fact, according to UC Irvine professor and neuroscientist Dr. Georg Striedter, brains are constantly reorganizing as they expand.3 Instead of brain layers dedicated to a certain function, the MGH researchers found that a number of brain “hubs” are responsible for our cognition.
This finding was supported by the MRI results. The images showed that among regular agers the hub regions had largely atrophied and shrunk. But in superagers, hub regions were just as thick and active as those of young adults.
Understanding that the brain evolves and reorganizes around these hubs, the next question was how to keep the hubs active and strong. The MGH researchers think they’ve found the answer. But it might not be one that you want to hear.
What We Can Learn From 'Super-Agers'
Adding more “pain” to your life, doesn’t have to be an unpleasant thing. It’s as simple as taking on the challenge of learning something new. Maybe dusting off the piano and learning a new piece of music, learning a new language, or just playing some Sudoku. The point is these ‘super-agers’ have made challenging their brains a way of life.