By Steve Moran
There is a small subset of people who are 80-plus years old who appear to have the same cognitive power of those in their 30s. Imagine for a minute that you could create a senior living community that could turn ordinary older people into superagers. How would that go for your marketing and occupancy?
A recent study in The Lancet titled “Brain Structure and Phenotypic Profile of Superagers Compared With Age-Matched Older Adults: A Longitudinal Analysis From the Vallecas Project” took a look at how a group of 64 “superagers” compared to a similar group of older people. (Here’s a CNN article about it.) This study and other researchers define superagers as people who:
- Are over 80 years of age
- Have the episodic memory of a healthy person 20-30 years younger (people age 50-60)
- Have high levels of problem-solving skills that are comparable to or even better than those who are decades younger
- Have brains that seem to resist typical age-related declines in cognitive abilities, including memory loss and mental processing speed
What Makes Them Different
The challenge in answering this question is the question of cause and effect. But here are some of the major differences:
- Higher volumes of gray matter in a number of areas of the brain
- Faster physical movement, better balance and agility
- Better mental health
- Blood with biomarkers for dementia similar to the “typical population,” yet a lack of decline that was striking
- More years of education
- Better sleep (though there was no difference in the amount of sleep the two groups reported that they got)
- Better self-reported mental health
- A much more active lifestyle in their middle ages
- Lower likelihood of a history of glucose disorders and hypertension
- Higher musical background (formal or informal)
Superagers and Senior Living
This study looked primarily at middle age lifestyle differences, and it would be easy to conclude that by the time someone is ready to move into senior living, it is too late to “reverse” the effects of aging.
But, what if that is not true ….
Ellen Langer’s 1979 counterclockwise study hints that it is possible to reverse at least some of the aging processes in people in their 70s. In the 19th century there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of health sanitariums that promised to cure all kinds of things — most of them using pretty dubious methods. But conceptually maybe this is where senior living needs to go, using real science.
Imagine that we, senior living, led the way in improving the health of older people. I have this dream of older people (but at a younger age) flocking to senior living communities that specialize in longevity. After they move in, they live these amazing lives and roll back the aging clock.
Then when death comes, it is a short period of time. It would solve the health care crisis we are facing in North America and other parts of the world. It would solve the caregiver problem, and life would be so much better for families.
What do you think?