Deterioration in memory and thinking abilities can be common components of aging that we think it is natural for everyone to go down that way. However, super agers defy conventions.
"There is a tendency to equate aging with a decline in mental function," said Molly Wagster, Ph.D., chief of the Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Branch in NIA's Division of Neuroscience.
Although it is natural for brainpower to deteriorate as people age, research demonstrates that it is not unavoidable. Some people can keep their minds sharp far into their 80s, 90s, and beyond, contradicting the widespread belief that cognitive decline is a regular aspect of aging.
Compared to other people their age, these fortunate few, dubbed cognitive super-agers, perform substantially better on memory tests, such as recalling past events or recalling a list of words.
Super Agers and What They Have in Common
Reckoned to be young in the mind but with an aged body, super-agers retain their cognitive and mental alacrity well into their old age. They can recall details of events from the decades-long past and can pass challenging memory tests.
Super Agers, a term coined by neurologist Marsel Mesulam, lose their brain mass at a much slower rate, and that the outer layer of grey matter or cortex is thicker. They have more Von Economo neurons — brain cells that increase communication than average elderly individuals.
Research done by Northwestern researchers using MRI to measure brain volume over 18 months in small study participants reveals that the average annual volume loss is 2.24% in normal cognitive adults while at 1.06% for super-agers.
In short, their brains shrunk at a significantly slower rate. The following super-agers have more than cognitive abilities in common. They all want to have meaningful and enduring contributions to society.
1. Philip Kotler
Kotler is the author and co-author of more than 166 published articles and 80 books, marketing author, consultant, and professor. Kotler has done more than any other scholar or writer to advance the importance of marketing. He transformed it from a peripheral activity and bolted on to production’s more "important" work.
Named "The Father of Modern Marketing" by many scholars, Kotler helped build the field of social marketing that homed on helping groups and individuals modify their behaviors toward safer and healthier living styles. Kotler created the concept of "demarketing" to help reduce demand. He also developed the ideas of "prosumers" and "atmospherics."
At the age of 90, Kotler continues to be a thought leader. Kotler's latest work focuses on the shortcomings of capitalism and economic justice. His latest publication was in 2019, "Advancing The Common Good."
2. Peter Drucker
"A decline in mental function is inevitable," said Steven Ferris, a New York University's Langone Medical Center psychologist. But this doesn't hold for super ager Peter Drucker. On November 18, 2005, the Financial Times surveyed 1,000 executives in 25 countries about the Most Influential Business Writers/Management Gurus. Drucker tops the list.
An educator, a management consultant, an avid author whose writings contributed to the practical and philosophical foundations of the business corporation, Drucker is aptly honored as "the founder of modern management."
With a keen and analytical mind, yet empathic, he is a proponent of how organizations can help bring out the best in people. And how workers can attain a sense of dignity and community in a modern society organized around large institutions.
His brilliant mind never wavers. From 1971 to 2002, he was the Clarke Professor of Social Science and Management at Claremont. At age 92, Drucker taught his last class in 2002. From the age of 95 until his death, he continued to act as a consultant to businesses and nonprofit organizations.
3. Sandra Day O'Connor
A new study from England suggests the brain's abilities to reason, comprehend, and remember may start to worsen as early as age 45. However, Sandra O'Connor is a fine example of a super ager who defies the above statistics.
Justice O'Connor's life is full of firsts. She is the first female majority leader of any state senate in the United States, representing Arizona. During her time there, she sponsored or co-sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation to improve the lives of her constituency.
Sandra Day O'Connor became a household name nationally and internationally for becoming the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. During her 25 years on the United States Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor developed a reputation for independent, rigorously fact-based legal thinking and analysis.
A proponent of philanthropy, nonprofits, and civics, one of her lasting legacies is creating an online games platform for learning civics used today by more than 5 million students in all 50 US states. She is respectfully called the most influential woman in American history. She is currently 91 years old.
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4. Warren Buffett
Scientists now acknowledge that some cognitive functions become weaker with age, but others improve. And our next super ager has an agile mind that has not been slowed down by the passing of years.
Legendary super-investor Warren Buffet is known to his fans as the "Oracle of Omaha," while the rest of the world calls him the most significant investor of all time. There is so much to admire about the man.
Even as a business magnate and one of the wealthiest and most respected business people globally, Buffet's frugal and simple lifestyle is noteworthy.
As a philanthropist who organized the philanthropic sector "Giving Pledge," he induces 81 billionaires to give more than half of their wealth to charitable institutions. Reshaping how the rich think about money and giving, Warren Buffett's most lasting contribution will not be his money. It will be how he successfully leveraged his social network to inspire other billionaires to give extraordinary wealth for charitable good.
So, does everyone have a chance to become a mental or physical super ager? Indeed! Scientific studies may not be conclusive yet, but generally, if a person keeps his mind and body active, one might have a good chance of becoming a super-ager.
As Warren Buffet says, "You get exactly one mind and one body in this world, and you can't start taking care of it when you're 50. By that time, you'll rust it out if you haven't done anything."
Taking the cue from Warren Buffet, let us look at the extraordinary lives of some super-agers but whose reinvention started when they were 50 plus and above and became heroes of the business world!
Characteristics of Super Agers
You might be thinking, oh, another motivational piece? No, it's not.
Too many times, I come across motivational pieces saying cheesy phrases that are commonly used, and I sigh. But when I think about the people in this article, these phrases cease to be cheesy and become rather noteworthy. I’ll start with a woman who put my gym membership cards to shame.
Ernestine Shepherd - started her bodybuilding career at the age of 56. In 2010, the Guinness Book of Records declared her the oldest competitive female bodybuilder in the world. She has won two bodybuilding titles and completed nine marathons. Who says you can't be beautiful, wonderful, and successful as an octogenarian?
Change is never without stress and anxiety. Stay strong, both in the body and the mind. Exercise regularly. Continuous learning and positive thinking can do wonders for health and wellbeing.
Dave Bateman - A retired Colonel from the US Air Force, and his wife Trudy moved to Hawaii in 2005 from Washington to start their coffee business. After a push from a friend and getting the resources in place, they started coffee harvesting and soon launched their business, Heavenly Hawaiian.
Today, the Heavenly Hawaiian coffee farm is one of the highly regarded and most awarded farms on the island. Great coffee, rustic and relaxing living, what could be perfect?
Michael Bloomberg - Compelling, awe-inspiring. Business founder and CEO at the age of 39. A successful and respected politician at the age of 60. Then an author and philanthropist. And at the age of 72 back to CEO!
Need I say more about THE MAN? - Many people have achieved incredible success at a later stage in life. Many spent decades on entirely different paths before changing course. Some have nurtured other passions before reinventing themselves, while others developed them with time. One thing's certain, they all brought skills and wisdom with them from one career to the next.
Taikichiro Mori - At age 55, Mori had inherited a couple of buildings from his father. He left academia as the head of the School of Commerce at Yokohama City University in Tokyo and jumped head-first into Tokyo's real estate scene.
In a few years, Mori was presiding over his country's real estate market boom. When he died in 1993, he was Forbes' two-time reigning world's richest man with a net worth of around $13 billion. Yes, billions! Mori was something of a Japanese precursor to Warren Buffett.
5. Inquiring Mind
Jack Cover - Cover, a nuclear, worked in aerospace and defense throughout his career. He played a significant role in supplying parts for NASA's Apollo project.It intended to find a weapon that could incapacitate assailants without killing them.
The 50-year-old Cover started Taser, Inc. in 1970. Cover was granted a patent for his design in 1974, and by 1980 he had convinced the Los Angeles Police Department to use his new gadget Taser to help apprehend violent suspects. When Cover passed away at the age of 88, his device was in use in over 45 countries worldwide.
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Like many people, the Wilders took a hit during the Great Depression. That’s when Laura tried her hand at writing novels. "Little House on the Prairie" has gone on to become one of the world's most beloved children's books. But she was a mature and grown woman when she sat down to write her masterpieces and bask in the power of storytelling.
Laura Wilder published her first novel at the age of 65, and yet, she still managed to turn out one of the most beloved series of all time.
Anna Mary Moses - Grandma Moses has initially been a great lover of embroidery. However, her arthritis grew too painful for her to hold a needle, so she decided to try the painting.
She was 76 when she tried her hand on a canvas. She initially charged $3 to $5 for her original pieces. But prices skyrocketed to $10,000 by the time she died at the age of 101 in 1962. In 2006, her painting Sugaring Off sold for $1.36 million at a Christie's auction.
Colonel Harland Sanders - He knew stuff and was a capable young man. But he only became the string-tied chicken mogul we know and love until he was 65. Sanders held several jobs before 50, including farmer, fireman, insurance salesman, and streetcar conductor.
When he perfected his quick-cooking technique and spice blend for making fried chicken in 1952, he began traveling the country selling Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. By the time he sold the business for $2 million in 1964, over 900 of them. So what more can we learn from these extraordinary people?
Super Ager’s Top 3 Habits
1. They live an active lifestyle.
One of the best things you can do as you get older is to stay active. Increased oxygen intake occurs due to physical activity, which aids your body's performance. Exercise is good for your heart and muscle strength.
Exercise also aids in the maintenance of a healthy weight. Individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 have a threefold increased chance of acquiring Alzheimer's disease. Even two times a week of exercise can significantly reduce your risk of developing the condition later in life.
2. They continue to challenge themselves.
Mental activity is just as vital as physical exercise. There's no need to be concerned if crossword puzzles don’t appeal to you. There are many different types of mental activity.
Try reading an article on a topic you're unfamiliar with or enrolling in classes that will push you out of your comfort zone. These will help the brain to be stimulated and engaged in new ways.
3. They indulge.
That's right, you read it accurately. Individuals who are exercise enthusiasts and those who have a nightcap every evening have aged well. On occasion, they also drink alcohol; moderate drinkers were 23 percent less likely to acquire Alzheimer's disease or memory impairments than nondrinkers.
Moderation is the key here. It's also worth noting that drinking more than the recommended amount is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
The Final Note
It's time to shatter the entrepreneur's age bias. After all, age is just a number. If they could make what seem like such drastic transitions, you can too. Everyone has a running chance!
Confidence comes from experience and knowledge. They are experienced and battle-weathered than their counterparts. They have enormous value to offer, which is critical during tough economic times. It is never too late to learn from them!
As an individual or a leader, become the best person you can be!
So invest in yourself, be active, enjoy life, and motivate others to do the same. As they say, LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE.