Secrets of ‘SuperAgers’ with fond memories of their 80’s

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

“I’m bored. I feel like I’m using a Corvette 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 20-30 years younger. She is part of an elite group enrolled in the Northwestern SuperAging Research Program, which has been studying seniors with fond memories for 14 years. The program is part of the Misolam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

I auditioned twice for Jeopardy! And he did well enough to invite them to the live auditions. “Then Covid hit,” Siegler said.

“Who knows how well I would have done,” she added with a chuckle. What I said to my children and everyone else who asked me was: “I may know a lot about Beethoven and Liszt, but I know very little about Beyoncé and Lizzo.” ”

SuperAger Carol Seigler appears with her grandchildren (from left): Alex Siegler, 23;  Elizabeth Siegler, 27;  Carol Siegler, 85;  Megan Boyle, 18;  Connor Boyle, 17;  Jacob Siegler, 29.

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

said cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Rogalski, who developed the SuperAger project, said only about 10% of people who apply to the program meet those criteria.

“It is important to note that when we compare SuperAgers with average age, they have similar levels of intelligence, so the differences we see are not just due to intelligence,” she said.

Once accepted, color 3D scans of the brain are given and cognitive tests and brain scans are repeated every year or so. Data analysis over the years has yielded impressive results.

Most people’s brains shrink as they get older. However, studies in SuperAgers have shown that the cortex, which is responsible for thinking, decision-making, and memory, remains thicker and shrinks more slowly than those in their fifties and sixties.

The SuperAger’s brain, which is typically donated to the research program by participants after death, has larger, healthier cells in the inner spinal cortex. It is one of the first areas of the brain to be ‘hit’ by Alzheimer’s disease,” Tamar Geffen, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern, said in an email.

Cognitively speaking, said Giffin, lead author of a November study that compared the brains of deceased older adults with the brains of cognitively older and younger people diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The study also found that the brains of SuperAgers had three times as many tau tangles, or abnormal formations of the protein inside neurons, as the brains of healthy, cognitive controls. Tau tangles are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

“We think that larger neurons in the entorhinal cortex indicate that they are more ‘structurally intact’ and possibly can tolerate neurofibrillary tau tangle formation,” said Given.

Geffen also found that the brains of SuperAgers had a higher number of economic von cells, a rare type of brain cell, which has so far been found in humans, great apes, elephants, whales, dolphins, and songbirds. The switch-like economic von neurons are thought to allow rapid communication across the brain. Another theory is that neurons give humans and great apes an intuitive advantage in social situations.

Von’s economic neurons are found in the anterior cingulate cortex, which forms a collar in the frontal part of the brain that connects the cognitive, logical, emotional and feeling sides. The anterior cingulate is thought to be important for regulating emotions and attention – another key to good memory.

Taken together, Geffen said, these findings point to a genetic link to becoming a superbugger. However, she added, “The only way to confirm whether super-ages are born with larger inner neurons is to measure these neurons from birth to death. This is clearly not possible.”

SuperAgers share similar traits, said Rogalski, who is also the associate director of the Misolam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Feinberg. These people remain physically active. They tend to be positive. They challenge their brains every day, reading or learning something new – many of them keep working into their 80s. SuperAgers are also social butterflies, surrounded by family and friends, and can often be found in the community.

“When we compare SuperAgers with normal seniors, we see that they tend to endorse more positive relationships with others,” said Rogalski.

“This social bonding may be a feature of SuperAgers that distinguishes them from those who are still in good shape but are what we might call average or normal lifespan,” she said.

Carol Siegler learned to read at an early age.

Looking back on her life, Carol Siegler recognizes many of the traits of a SuperAger. As a little girl during the Great Depression, she taught herself to spell and play the piano. She learned to read Hebrew on her grandfather’s knee, proofreading his weekly Yiddish newspaper.

“I have a great memory. I was always the kid you could say, ‘Hey, what’s Sophia’s phone number?’ and I would know it off the top of my head,” Siegler said.

I graduated from high school at the age of 16 and immediately went to college. Siegler earned her pilot’s license at age 23 and later started a family business in her basement, which grew to have a staff of 100. At 82, she won the US Crossword Puzzle Tournament for her age group, which she says she entered “as a hottie.”

After seeing an advertisement for SuperAger on TV, Siegler thought it looked very interesting. Siegler said being chosen to be a SuperAger was exciting, but she knows she was born lucky.

She said, “Someone with the same abilities or talents as a SuperAger who lives in a place where there is very little way to express them, may never know they have them.” “This is a real shame.”

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