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'Super-agers' stay mentally sharp into 90s

September 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
For the first time, researchers have identified an elite group of people 80 and older whose memories are as sharp as people decades younger.

As an apparent "Super-ager," as these senior citizens are called, Leah Herzberg, an elected representative to a chapter of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, says she is passionate about politics.

"I am very distressed with some of the social programs being wiped away and discounted," she says.

Herzberg clearly recalls the Great Depression.

"I remember very vividly when the banks closed, what a panic it was," she says.

UCLA researchers say Herzberg is unique because she remembers much, much more.

"She has superior scores in memory and executive function and she compares to the young normals, the 20 and 30 year olds," said Dr. Liana Apostolova of the UCLA Mary s. Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research.

Super-agers are people over age 80 who are uniquely protected from memory loss and the brain atrophy that comes with aging. The most important factor is genetics.

"Normally people who age well and who show impeccable brain strength and abilities in later life, can say the same about their parents," Apostolova said.

However, experts say genetics alone isn't enough.

"Go to theaters, go visit museums, socialize with friends, exercise," Apostolova said.

Herzberg also credits her social network with the Democratic National Committee. Her second secret is to protect yourself emotionally.

"Stressing is not a factor that helps," she says.

Researchers hope to one day duplicate the genetic gifts of these Super-agers.


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