Superagers: UCLA researchers share key to staying sharp as you age

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Science tells us many things about aging successfully. We are told to engage our minds, reduce stress and overall inflammation.

But people who make it to a ripe, old age and remain as sharp as a tack may have something else going on for them besides good a healthy lifestyle and genetics.

UCLA scientists are looking for superagers to take part in a unique study.

"What's the name of this place?" asked Dr. Gary Small, the director of the Longevity Center at UCLA.

"The Semel Institute," replied 81-year-old Sandra Jacoby Klein of Santa Monica.

Klein is very aware of her surroundings. Longevity experts have classified her as a superager.

"Superagers are individuals who live to their 80s, 90s and beyond and have their cognitive health and their physical health," Small said.

Klein still enjoys working as a family and marriage therapist.

"I need to remember what my patients say to me," Klein said, "And so far I'm able to do that."

During testing, Small said, "Ball. Flag.Tree. Can you repeat? Try to remember them, OK?"

Small is looking for more superagers like Klein to participate in a unique study.

"To try to understand what makes some people live better longer," he said.

Half of people 85 and older will get dementia and Alzheimer's. Small said, "The problem is our brains and our bodies weren't really engineered to live that long."

So researchers want to learn how superagers become successful at growing old.

"What we're looking at are genetic factors," Small said, "But we also know that non-genetic factors are probably even more important."

Such factors include what they eat, their health and their stress levels. After a battery of distracting questions, Klein comes through with the right answer.

Small asked, "Do you remember those three words I just told you?"

"Ball, flag, tree," replied Klein.

"Fantastic!" Small said, "She's engaged with friends and families, so she has strong family connections, she's also got a very positive attitude."

Superagers also exercise their bodies. Movement feeds the brain, and research shows the best kind of exercise is the type that happens outdoors.

"And it may be the mental stimulation by observing nature or seeing what's going on around you," Small said.

During the study, participants answer questions, play memory games and undergo two MRI scans. The hope is they'll help others unlock the secrets to super-aging.

To learn more about the study, call 310-794-0077 or email hcp@ucla.edu.
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