SuperAging Pearls

SuperAgers are social butterflies according to research; they flutter between family members and/or friends, often flitting off to join volunteer possibilities in their communities where they make new acquaintances. Does this sound like you? Perhaps you are more introverted and such fluttering around drives you a bit crazy. As Carl Jung wrote in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. Each of us carries his [her, or their] own life-form….”

First some bad news: brains shrink during one’s life-forming aging process. Next, some good news: brains thrive with novelty in one’s day-to-day fly-by activities and many of these actions can be solitary. A simple novel action for me is to dress with different combinations of clothes from my closet with different accessories EVERY day. Yes, I have too many colorful scarves and earrings, but different daily combos deliver an early-AM pep talk for more serious novelty-thinking during my day. You will choose your own brain-tickling novelties.

You may ask, “What exactly defines a SuperAger?”

  • SuperAgers have superior memories for the ability to recall everyday events and past personal experiences. Northwestern University SuperAging Research Program has studied this exciting group of folks (over the magic age of 80) for 14 years. To qualify, one’s memory had to test to be as good (or better) than healthy memories of those in their 50’s or 60’s. If your memory seems a tad rusty, read my Pearls of Peace blog, “Bodymind Pearls for Aging,” for memory exercises.
  • SuperAgers possess healthier cells in the entorhinal cortex, a critical area of the brain for memory functioning. According to neuropsychologist Tamar Gefen, Assistant Director of the Clinical Core of the NIA-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Northwestern (within the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease), the entorhinal cortex is “one of the first areas of the brain to get ‘hit’ by Alzheimer’s disease.” New memories rely upon entorhinal-hippocampal connectivity.   
  • SuperAgers have many more “von economo neurons” — located in the anterior cingulate cortex and believed to foster rapid communication across the brain, linking cognitive processing with emotional reactions. Humans are not alone in their potential to have these cells; great apes, elephants, whales, dolphins and songbirds also have them.
  • One theory considers that “von economo neurons” deliver humans an intuitive advantage in social situations.
  • You might guess that SuperAgers are active physically and lean toward positivity. They believe in challenging their brains every day, reading or learning something new; many continue working into their 80s.

Here is one summary of a SuperAging life (by Canadian writer Robin S. Sharma): “A great life is nothing more than a series of days well lived strung together like a string of pearls.”

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz

175. Who are the SuperAgers among the people that you know?   

176. What novelties, both simple and more engaging, can you add to your days?               

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. Janis, I do like reading aloud and am doing that more since your memory exercises came out last week. I like practicing writing too! I have to do more math problems consistently!


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