Thanks for the memories: why 60-year-old ‘Super Agers’ can outperform 20-year-olds

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New research suggests a healthier lifestyle may hold the key to better memory performance.

Growing older may bring wisdom and experience, but it’s often accompanied by cognitive decline in our retirement years. However, a new study has found that isn’t always the case – some people aged over 60 can consistently outperform 20-year-olds on memory recall tasks1.

This inspiring bunch of lucky people who reliably perform better at cognitive tests than their decades-younger counterparts have been dubbed ‘Super Agers’ by researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

The study busts some misconceptions about ageing and shows that people in the 70s, 80s and beyond can sustain memory functions as well as the young folks.

Lead author of the study Janet Maccora said the findings challenge the assumptions and negative stereotypes about ageing.

“The existence of Super Agers is important because it demonstrates not only the possibility of high functioning in later life, but also that it is not just young people who have excellent memory,” she said when announcing the results earlier this year.

Gender plays a role

Super Agers are becoming more prevalent in Australian society and there are a number of gender-related factors that determine the likelihood of becoming one.
Maccora and her colleagues applied gender-specific definitions of Super Agers to estimate how many there are in the population. They measured various demographic, physical, genetic, lifestyle, and psychosocial factors that were associated with being a Super Ager.

They found different gender factors were at play, with more women than men Super Agers.

“Education was the only factor associated with Super Ageing for both men and women, with more years of education increasing the odds of being a Super Ager,” she said.

Men who showed depressive symptoms were less likely to be a Super Ager, but men who participated in social activities were more likely to score higher on memory tests.

A higher frequency of involvement in investigative activities, such as reading scientific books or magazines, solving maths or chess puzzles, or troubleshooting software packages on a computer, all increased the chances of being a female Super Ager.

The most surprising association – and perhaps the most welcome – was female Super Agers drank more standard drinks per week than their non-Super-Ageing counterparts.

However, the researchers warned that the association between alcohol consumption and later-life cognition should be interpreted cautiously.

“There are challenges in measuring the association between alcohol consumption and later-life cognition, such as the risk of bias inherent in self-reported measurements, the lack of information regarding alcohol type or the unmeasured influence of socioeconomic status.

The study also found many factors commonly associated with ageing and cognitive decline, such as diabetes, hypertension and smoking, were not linked with being a Super Ager.

Don’t neglect a safety net: preparing for cognitive decline

While it’s nice to think we might all become Super Agers, the reality is only a minority of us will achieve that level.

The thought of experiencing the natural decline of our cognitive abilities that comes with ageing evokes fear and anxiety. Most people’s financial literacy scores decline by about one percentage point each year after age 60, according to research.

Yet less than half of investors said they have a plan in place if their decision-making abilities decline, according to a State Street Global Advisors’ survey, which can lead to financial mismanagement or fraud.

It’s crucial to set up such a plan in advance to combat any cognitive decline and exert more control.

Consider appointing an independent power of attorney to manage financial decisions if you are unable to do so. An independent trustee can also ensure your interests are placed first, and removes the burden of family and friends making tough decisions.

1. Factors associated with being a SuperAger differ for men and women | CEPAR. (2020, October 04). Retrieved from https://www.cepar.edu.au/news-events/news/factors-associated-being-superager-differ-men-and-women

 

 

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