SuperAgers: Do Octogenarians with Exceptional Memory Hold the Key to Healthy Aging?

That older relative who stays preternaturally sharp long into their 80’s or 90’s may hold within their skull the secret to understanding how we lose, and keep, our memories. There are many different ways of aging successfully, but a growing group of scientists at Northwestern university and elsewhere are zeroing in on why some people keep the recall you’d expect of a middle-ager well into their 9th and 10th decades. The scientists do everything they can to get to know these the owners of these brains — their abilities, their genes, and the stories of their lives — then, when they die, dissect the brains themselves. Will the craniums of these successful “SuperAgers” give science some leverage in the battle against dementia, or even against aging itself?


Bennett McIntosh

About Bennett McIntosh

Bennett was born in Littleton, Colorado, a Denver suburb best understood as the inspiration for South Park. He entered the lab at an early age, serving as the pilot subject for his father’s psychology experiments at the University of Denver; Googling “facial mimicry” still brings up a portrait of a smiling young Bennett with a face-full of electrodes from one such study. But rather than the perhaps-too-familiar world of psychology, he was drawn to chemistry: as presented in high school, this was the discipline of thermite, exploding methane bubbles, and pennies turned from copper into gold (well, golden brass). His curiosity thus piqued, Bennett spent four years studying the subject at Princeton, and was only slightly disappointed to receive, in 2016, a diploma for a bachelor’s degree in “chemia” (from the Latin word) rather than “alchemy” (from the Arabic). In the course of his research in labs from Princeton to Brighton, England, and Nove Hrady, Czech Republic, Bennett noticed he would spend more time writing – poetry, op-ed rants about university policy, or omphaloskeptic essays – than in the lab. So he decided to channel some of that writing into scientific topics, reporting on the origin of consciousness, the ethics of CRISPR, and the mechanics of gerrymandering for class and student publications; he quickly discovered that science writers are second only to physicists in their freedom to explore and pontificate upon interesting and important topics they have no formal training in. Bennett hopes to continue that exploration – and do something useful with it – at MIT and beyond.


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