Psychological well-being in elderly adults with extraordinary episodic memory

PLoS One. 2017 Oct 23;12(10):e0186413. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186413. eCollection 2017.


Objectives: The Northwestern University SuperAging Program studies a rare cohort of individuals over age 80 with episodic memory ability at least as good as middle-age adults to determine what factors contribute to their elite memory performance. As psychological well-being is positively correlated with cognitive performance in older adults, the present study examined whether aspects of psychological well-being distinguish cognitive SuperAgers from their cognitively average-for-age, same-age peers.

Method: Thirty-one SuperAgers and 19 cognitively average-for-age peers completed the Ryff 42-item Psychological Well-Being questionnaire, comprised of 6 subscales: Autonomy, Positive Relations with Others, Environmental Mastery, Personal Growth, Purpose in Life, and Self-Acceptance.

Results: The groups did not differ on demographic factors, including estimated premorbid intelligence. Consistent with inclusion criteria, SuperAgers had better episodic memory scores. Compared to cognitively average-for-age peers, SuperAgers endorsed greater levels of Positive Relations with Others. The groups did not differ on other PWB-42 subscales.

Discussion: While SuperAgers and their cognitively average-for-age peers reported similarly high levels of psychological well-being across multiple dimensions, SuperAgers endorsed greater levels of positive social relationships. This psychological feature could conceivably have a biological relationship to the greater thickness of the anterior cingulate gyrus and higher density of von Economo neurons previously reported in SuperAgers.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires