Last year, a group of researchers at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University reported that they’d identified a small group of elderly people whose brains appeared relatively immune to the physical effects of ageing. These 12 “SuperAgers” – average age 83 – matched the performance of middle-aged people on memory tests, task switching and attention. Unlike their peers’ brains, the physical state of the SuperAgers’ brains was also comparable to the brains of the middle aged, in terms of cortical thickness and overall volume. In fact one brain area – the left anterior cingulate – was larger in the SuperAgers than in middle-aged controls.
In a follow-up study published this January, the researchers further reported that the brains of SuperAgers had unusually low densities of age-related Alzheimer pathology, unusually high numbers of von Economo neurons in the anterior cingulate gyrus, and a lower than usual frequency of the ɛ4 allele of apolipoprotein E – a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease.
For Day 5 of the Digest Super Week, allow me to introduce you to Custis Wright, SuperAger:
I am a SuperAger
My name is Custis Wright, 88 years old, and I am lucky to be able to test and qualify as a “SuperAger.” My life has been a very fortunate one, in comfortable circumstances; my health has been good and any difficulties have been taken care of. I graduated from Vassar and leaving Baltimore where I grew up, I moved with my first husband to Minneapolis. In the 1950s, I married again and moved to Texas, ending up with a blended family. After running around after five children (though with help), at age 50 I decided to be more physically active. I had walked during golf, before carts, but nothing else. Thus, I decided to take up jogging for two miles, very slowly. I continued for 25 years, after which I was forced by hip tendonitis to slow to a fast walk. Meanwhile, remaining an active golfer, I also worked on a Nordic Track, and then an elliptical trainer. These exercises have continued to this day.
I felt I was fairly intelligent but always had to contend with my husband’s 180 IQ. I do find that I read more, and more widely, than most people. It was fun to take the tests at Northwestern Medical School, but I am still considering going to a memory clinic. Both of my siblings died young, but I am confident that my mother, who died at 88, would have been considered a SuperAger. Unfortunately, I was not around her sister or my father at the end (both died at 83 years old), but it is possible that they might have qualified as well.
Maintaining my good health has always been important and all my adult life I have strictly limited intake of fats and sugars, with occasional indulgences; I love red wine. I have Celiac disease, so grains are difficult, but gluten-free options can be found. My life includes a number of small, unorganised groups, some members of which have views directly opposed to mine; in most of these I am definitely the oldest person. So with my family (including two daughters living nearby) and friends, I have wonderful social contacts.
I appreciate this opportunity to give my point of view on my life.
Ms Custis Wright lives in Austin Texas. Contact her on custisw [at] mailbug.com (plain text only, no attachments).
Tomorrow we hear from a researcher studying SuperTaskers – people who can multitask without loss of performance.