How do these elderly people stay so sharp?

The article on "superagers" that appeared in Friday’s Chicago Tribune was fun to report.

We got the idea from Northwestern University, where researchers found similarities between the brains of especially sharp elderly people and a sample of middle-aged folks. By understanding what is working so well in some older brains, professors hope to learn more about how to stop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Northwestern put me in touch with two superagers, Barb Shaeffer, 85, and Don Goldsmith, 83.

Shaeffer, who lives downtown, co-teaches one class and takes two others through a Northwestern program for retirees. Goldsmith, of Highland Park, leads a class on baseball history at the Florida retirement community where he spends his winters.

I came away from my interviews awed with what Shaeffer and Goldsmith were doing so late in life. They were very gracious with their time, which is saying something since they both maintain social calendars that put mine to shame.

Judging from the comments, this story struck a chord with some readers. I think it’s because Goldsmith and Shaeffer are pictures of what everyone wants to be in their 80s. If I’m teaching a class at that age, I figure things will be going pretty well.

-- Mitch Smith

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