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How "Superagers" Maintain Cognitive Performance Into Their 80s

Here’s a new word for you: superager. It refers to an older adult whose cognitive performance is the same as a younger adult. The implication is that it’s not normal for people to maintain cognition as they age. However, if we can identify what makes superagers unique, can this well-proven pattern of cognitive decline be prevented?

A new study by Felicia Sun et al., published in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at the neuroanatomy of older adults, and found that key regions of the brain had higher cortical thickness among superagers, compared to adults who aged normally. In other words, adults who maintained their cognitive performance over the years literally had thicker brains; in fact, in those regions, the physical anatomy of superagers’ brains was indistinguishable from that of younger adults.

The big question is how to become a superager. Writing in the New York Times, Lisa Feldman Barrett (one of the authors of the study above) speculates that it takes both physical and mental activity, and it has to be difficult. That brings us back to a topic we’ve covered a lot on this blog: brain training. Barrett believes brain game web sites aren’t enough, because they’re too pleasant. The road to becoming a superager has to hurt a little.

So brain games may be a little too fun to help you to become a superager, but can they serve any other purpose? A subscriber to the CBS Trials newsletter, Dr. Patrick Davidson, was kind enough to let us know that he’s put together a “micro-guide” to evaluating brain training products.

I love this idea of a micro-guide to a controversial scientific question that directly affects the public. It’s written so that anybody can understand it and follow the practical steps, but is based on sound scientific principles. Thanks to Dr. Davidson. If anyone else has cognition-related information or research to share, it would be great to hear from you.