Is 100 really the new 70?
For a “cognitive super-ager” the answer is yes.
The term super-ager is used to describe a person nearing the end of the human lifespan with the mental abilities of a person 30 years younger.
Less than 1% of people reach the age of 100, but a recent study shows that those who do so with their cognitive function intact tend to continue on that way for the rest of their lives—even if their brains display the physiological markers of Alzheimer’s like beta-amyloid plaque.
Not only that, new evidence shows that some of these “super-agers” seemed to display what researchers described as enhanced cognitive resilience.
But what makes someone a “super-ager”?
And is it possible to learn and apply what “super-agers” do so that we can protect our own brain?
The good news is yes and what I’m about to share with you today can help you get started!
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The “super-ager” brain
Scientists have been studying “super-agers” with the hope of learning more about what makes their apparent lack of mental decline possible with the goal of helping more people enjoy better brain health for longer.
In a 2021 study from Vrije University in Amsterdam, 340 centenarians (100+ years old) underwent a series of cognitive tests for 19 months. The 79 who remained until the end of the study exhibited no decline in measures of cognition, except for a small reduction in memory function.
These centenarian participants displayed the cognitive capacity of a person in the 70s, whether they were doing activities like redrawing a picture they recently viewed, listing items that began with a certain letter and maintaining attention-to-task.
Notably, participants who were genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer’s still did well on the tests.
About a third of the study participants chose to donate their brain post-death. During the autopsies, 44 of the 79 people displayed significant markers of Alzheimer’s, yet still remained cognitively healthy for up to four years after the study.
But how is it possible for a person to have the biomarkers of Alzheimers, yet escape it?
Boston University geriatrician Dr. Thomas T. Perls talked about the study in an editorial saying that, in addition to “protective biological mechanisms that slow brain aging and prevent clinical illness”, participants may have been spared the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms through habits that build cognitive reserve.
In the next section, I'd like to show you how.
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Fortify your brain with these cognitive reserve builders
Harvard University Medical School describes cognitive reserve as “Your brain's ability to improvise and find alternate ways of getting a job done.” It’s how your brain changes and adds resources to cope with challenges.
Research has shown that people with greater cognitive reserve, like the super-agers we talked about a moment ago, are better able to fend off symptoms of brain degeneration. Additionally, more cognitive reserve comes in handy during life challenges like unexpected surgeries or the loss of a loved one. During those times, the brain expends greater effort to help bring you back into balance.
That’s why engaging in habitual cognitive reserve building can go a long way towards keeping your brain healthier for longer.
According to Dr. Yaakov Stern, neuropsychologist and director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, some of the best ways to build cognitive reserve include:
Additionally, Dr. Perls offers the following ideas to fend off Alzheimers while increasing cognitive reserve:
Here are several ways to use music to challenge the brain. Check them out:
Remember that supporting a healthy brain and body is a mindset. Each minute invested can mean more healthy years to enjoy life to the fullest.
That is my hope for you and yours.
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About the author:
Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.
His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.
Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.
His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.
He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums.
Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root.
There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".
During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).
He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.
Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.