You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age

Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”

Maintaining & improving your brain’s vitality as you age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 

Along with suggestions designed to help, this article begins to debunk the myth of “to be expected” age-related cognitive decline — as it explains the mechanics of memory and outlines the functional trajectory of the healthy brain as time marches on.

In the Memory Issues Series, anyone currently struggling to fit into a neurotypical mold, even if you are GenX or younger, will find a lot of information that will help you develop effective you-specific strategies to work around some of the things that give you fits and shut you down.

Our Worst Nightmare

Staying in SHAPE as we age (Source HERE)

Most people who have lived with cognitive decline in an up close and personal fashion (in particular, the ravages of any of the dementias in a loved one), frequently report a back-of-the-mind concern that they are looking into a mirror of their future selves.

Time marches on, and we’re all getting older. The first wave of Baby Boomers – that spike in the population statistics once Johnny came marching home from World War II – turned 65 in 2012.

With the third-act aging of more and more of the Boomers, this conversation will become increasingly frequent, as those back-of-the-mind concerns rise to conscious awareness and become the worries of a greater portion of our population.

Take a D-E-E-P breath — you don’t HAVE to lose it as you age!!

Prevention is the better part of valor

You wouldn’t wait until the day before the marathon to train for it, would you? Same thing with healthy brain aging! Don’t wait until decline begins to start doing something about it — if you want to experience the rosy finish you can expect if you begin to employ neuro-protective techniques NOW

Good news for most Boomers –
it’s not too late to start turning things around!

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

Signs of Disfunction

Let’s start with what is lost in the slide into dementia, what might be referred to as a list of symptoms to watch for.

The Mayo Clinic staff has posted the list below in the Dementia section of their website.
Let’s start there.

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Inability to learn or remember new information
  • Difficulty with planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
  • Personality changes
  • Inability to reason
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations

Oh NO!

Those of you who have been following the Sleep Struggles Series might recognize that list as almost identical to some of the problems with chronic sleep deprivation.

With a bit of tweaking of terms (from the “impossible” end of the spectrum toward “struggles with” shades of darkness), those of you who are recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI] will recognize that list of symptoms as what you have been observing in your own behavior since your brain was injured.

Hey ADD/EFDers (and all of you who probably can’t recall a time when you weren’t dealing with what I refer to as Attentional Spectrum Dysregulations) — does anything on that list look familiar to YOU?

What does that MEAN?

Take a deep breath and calm down.  That does NOT mean that cognitive decline is already announcing itself as inevitable.

Science learned something rather startling from the oft-cited School Sisters of Notre Dame “Nun” Study — the longitudinal study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Some of the nuns’ brains were found, on autopsy, to have what used to be accepted as “the Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles).  Yet they managed to escape the behavioral devastation of Alzheimer’s.

Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.

Along with hundreds of others in their order, these nuns had volunteered for a long-term study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, hoping to provide evidence that might be used to teach the rest of us how to escape the worst ravages of this heartbreaking illness.

Thanks to their generosity of spirit, we know a lot more about it than we did, even five years ago – and stay tuned for a summary of that study and its implications.

What does this indicate?

Other than the fact that biology doesn’t HAVE to be destiny, science is not exactly sure yet.

  • There are a few conflicting theories, and quite a bit of speculation.
  • There is ALSO quite a bit of agreement over what is likely to be helpful
    (even though we’re not exactly sure why just yet).

We need to take a closer look at what’s going on up there in our brains to understand what goes wrong when our minds start to go — AS WELL AS how we can keep them healthy and vital as we age. Let’s start with what helps.


The Great Eight Strategies for Brain Fitness

  • Never stop learning — the brain thrives on stimulation!

Lower educational levels have been linked to higher risks of cognitive decline and dementia. Higher Education is associated with better mental functioning in old age – and self-education counts too!

The more you learn the better your brain functions across the board. And there is compelling evidence that learning something NEW increases the benefits.

“There are theoretical reasons and animal studies that suggest learning something completely new, completely outside your previous domain of knowledge, may increase the level of brain growth factors and increase the number of connections in the brain — while not proven in humans yet, the worst that happens is you learn something new!”  ~ Neurologist Glen Finney, member of the American Academy of Neurology, in an interview with The Huffington Post

  • Shake your booty! Multiple studies have shown that moderate exercise improves blood flow, boosts cognitive function and even improves performance in memory and recall. For mental fitness, aim for at least 30 minutes of heart-thumping physical activity every other day.
  • Prioritize cognitive resources — Develop the habit of putting treadmill tasks on autopilot to release cognitive bandwidth for attention on more important things.
  • Force yourself to take breaks – Set reminders if you tend to hyperfocus. Research has clearly shown that bouts of protracted stress can affect your brain long-term, negatively impacting functions that help with decision-making and memory. In addition, they’ve recently learned that long stretches of sitting are lousy for your physical health as well.

Use ALL your senses, even when you don’t have to.  Take frequent “NOW breaks” and, with each of your senses, pay attention to your surroundings in all directions: what you hear, feel, see, etc.  It will strengthen the formation of neuro-links.

  • Pay attention to what you put in your mouth Eat to avoid riding the energy roller coaster. Your brain hates that.  Healthy grazing is good (small meals throughout the day). So is eating foods low on the glycemic index.  They are broken down more slowly in the body than high-glycemic sweets and white starches.

Essential fatty acids, like Omega 3s from flax seeds, fatty fish and grass-fed animals, are proving to be essential for brain function, and beneficial for treating depression (supplements: not so much it turns out).

Up your [low calorie/no sugar] liquid intake too. Your brain needs hydration even more than your body. If you wait until you realize you are thirsty, your brain is parched and neurons are panting.

Stop worrying about coffee (chocolate too, but more about that in a minute) – Science has yet to know why, since the benefits may come from the antioxidants found in coffee and tea rather than the caffeine, but evidence indicates that 2-4 cups of coffee may turn out to be neuro-protective — significantly delaying normal cognitive decline and decreasing the incidence of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 60%.

  • Prevent the preventable (Type II diabetes, obesity, hypertension)  Physical problems like these also affect your brain, and have been linked to an increased risk of memory impairments and distractibility.  Watching the type of fats you ingest (in moderation), avoiding smoking, and keeping your weight within reasonable limits will pay off in cognitive bandwidth now and years into the future.
  • Put yourself to BED!  Even a day or two’s worth of sleep debt has cheated your brain of its housekeeping time when, among other tasks, each day’s memories are consolidated and saved in long-term storage tanks or discarded as unimportant. Sleep Debt also allows protein build up on synapses, which may well account for why it becomes harder to focus, think, learn new things and recall what you’ve learned.
  • Believe you CAN rather than worrying that you can’t.  Studies have shown that self-fullfilling prophesies often come true!


Now, about that chocolate!

Chocolate is rich in flavanols, a type of plant nutrient found in many foods and drinks, and particularly abundant in the cacao beans used to make cocoa powder, which is morphed into chocolate.

Flavanols have been studied for many years and have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots, and fight cell damage.

Benefits to brain health hasn’t been proven conclusively, but the news looks good for chocoholics everywhere.

According to Dr. Miguel Alonso-Alonso, a neuroscientist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “From laboratory and animal studies, we know that flavanols facilitate brain cell connections and survival, and protect brain cells from toxins or the negative effects of inflammation.”

In a study published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [December, 2014], Italian researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy individuals from 61 to 85 years of age – limited to those whose memories and thinking skills were in good shape for their ages. Subjects agreed to drink a daily concoction with high, medium or low amounts of cocoa flavanols.

After eight weeks, people who consumed medium and high amounts exhibited significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory.

A similar study by these same researchers, published in 2012, showed that daily consumption of cocoa flavanols was associated with improved thinking skills in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Both studies found that cocoa flavanols were associated with reduced blood pressure and improved insulin resistance as well as improved cognition.

Still another study, conducted by Columbia University Medical Center, showed that dietary cocoa flavanols reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults.

MORE Good News

Norman K. Hollenberg, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, dispensed flavanol-rich cocoa to healthy volunteers who were over age 50 and observed a “striking blood flow response” that evolved over several weeks, commenting:

“Since this cocoa preparation is so well tolerated, it raises hope that the brain blood flow response it stimulates can result in maintenance of healthy brain function and cognition, which is an issue that unfortunately plagues many older adults today.”

This is great news for 78 million Baby Boomers in America alone! The need to impact cognitive function and brain health will continue to become more important as we all grow older.

Still MORE benefits from flavanols

In a study of the Kuna Indians of Panama, Hollenberg and colleagues found that those living on the islands, heavy consumers of cocoa, had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer than those on the mainland, who were not.

The relative risk of death from heart disease on the Panama mainland was 1,280% higher than on the islands and death from cancer was 630% higher.

Hollenberg suggested that the same mechanism resulting in improved blood vessel function that he and others have observed following consumption of the Mars’ study cocoa concoction, could also be responsible for the enhanced brain blood flow both he and Ian A. Macdonald, PhD, from the University of Nottingham Medical School, UK had independently reported in previously published research.

Specifically, Hollenberg and others have observed that improvements in blood vessel function following flavanol rich cocoa consumption are paralleled by an increase in the circulating pool of nitric oxide, a critical molecule in the circulatory system that helps dilate blood vessels and keeps them pliable.

For More Information: Flavanols in cocoa may offer benefits to the brain
International Journal of Medical Sciences

And now for the bad news

Unfortunately for chocoholics, you might not be able to chow down on your favorite candy bars if you want the benefits.  Since the average 1-1/2 ounce chocolate bar might contain about 50 milligrams of flavanols, you would need to consume 10 to 20 bars every single day to approach the flavanol levels used in the University of L’Aquila study.

Not only would you have to seriously over-indulge to get your flavanols that way, most methods of processing cocoa remove the goodies found in the raw plant. Even dark chocolate, supposedly the “healthy” option, is frequently treated in a manner that flavanols are stripped as the cocoa darkens. If you’re a dark chocolate fan, do your best to find dark chocolate that has the highest concentration of flavonols per ounce.

The best way to get cocoa flavanols is through that bitter, natural cocoa powder (but not Dutch-process). It’s possible to get a megadose of cocoa flavanols from supplements and fortified powders, but the percentage of cocoa flavanols in these products have been found to vary widely. However, it may turn out that we may not need megadoses.

According to Dr. Alonso-Alonso, “The benefits of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health are well established, and for the general population a daily intake of 200 mg of cocoa flavanols is starting to emerge as a potential target within the context of a balanced diet.”

MUCH more to come

Let me be your “content concentrator” on this topic (and others) — kind of a “Cliff Notes” resource (with lots of links to more information, for those of you who have time to explore on your own). I am sharing what I discover as I work through the process of the book I am writing on the topic.

Learning about what science has recently discovered about HOW your brain does what it does at different points in the human life-cycle will help you “Learn how to drive the very brain you were born with – even if it’s taken a few hits in the meantime™” — and will help you protect your cognition as you grow older.

If you will leave questions and comments below, I will shape the content to come so that I explore what you are most interested in learning about or understanding FIRST.

Get it NOW, while its free for the taking – and SHARE BACK!

Remember to ring in with your thoughts and information too — and don’t forget to check out Peer Coaching Basic Training for some coaching help that won’t keep you tethered to payments

© 2013, 2016, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”

As always, if you want notification of of new articles – in this Series, or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help (one-on-one,couples or group) with anything that came up while you were reading this article, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above)

More articles in the Brain-Based Series

Related Articles around the ‘net
Organization’s Sites – LOTS more info on Alzheimer’s & Healthy Aging

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

62 Responses to You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age

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  14. swamiyesudas says:

    Quite a useful article, my Dear Madelyn. Am just a bit more than a decade away from my 80’s. Still. When I started going through the ‘signs,’ I found that apart from slight memory loss, (though my memory has myteriously Improved of late), I do not have any of the other symptoms. …Thanks again. Love and Regards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  16. noelleg44 says:

    This is reassuring, Madelyn. I’ve been doing all these things religiously since I retired. I still have moments where I just can’t remember something but eventually the circuit gets activated. Writing certainly helps and I like to work AARP mental challenges. Crosswords, Sudoku and Word Scramble keep me word sharp at least!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You also have a background that is neuro-protective – so it’s likely that, as long as you keep up the good habits, you’ll live to a brain-sharp old age. Plus, you swim – which is super exercise at any age. You will also find the Nun Study findings (next post) are in your favor. Reassuring indeed!

      Thanks for visiting & leaving a note.


  17. Pingback: Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  18. Reblogged this on Hell onWheels/Life One Handed and commented:
    I confess I am just hearing drink more coffee and eat more chocolate! However, never stop learning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol – I have been a fan of chocolate forever and ever, but it’s nice to hear that, except for the calories from fat, we no longer have to worry about it so much, huh? (Although it is actually cocoa that makes the biggest difference to brain health). NOBODY could convince me to give up coffee – my drug of choice – although some approval from the science crowd is nice to hear.

      Although the jury is mixed, resveratrol (found in red wine as well as in the skin of grapes, blueberries, raspberries & mulberries – which is why red, not white wine) has recently been reported to increase hippocampal growth in addition to heart healthy benefits reported for more than a few years now. ALL great news, huh?

      Thanks for visiting and leaving a calling card – and especially for the reblog.


  19. I confess all I heard was eat more chocolate and drink more coffee. Never fear I’ll reblog for later studying. I might send this to my mum (Baby Boomer) if I want a slap later.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks for putting this together – I’m happy to have chanced upon your site. Have come across my share of articles which have you clicking to discover more (irritating!) , keep the prologue so long as to lose reader interest, or just introduce the topic and then expect you to buy a book or click on some never-ending video for basic info.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    The older I get, the more this concerns me, so I thought I’d share what Madelyn has discovered so far 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  22. PorterGirl says:

    I was happily reading your post and then a nun appeared! Eeek!! My irrational fear of the beasts caused me to panic a little, but I bravely read on. My grandfather has been diagnosed with dementia and it is a heartbreaking condition for all concerned. He has always been fit and healthy and kept his mind active, but when his older brother (my beloved great uncle Fred) succumbed to the same condition, he seemed to know that he would follow suit. Fred sadly passed away from a heart condition (also shared by my Grandfather) and although he didn’t know who any of his family were, he was very happy in his care home, believing himself to be a young man once more, working as an engineer in the army. I was comforted by the fact that he was, at least, happy right to the end and that it was a more difficult situation for us to deal with than it was for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You might want to hide your eyes in the upcoming exploration of The Nun Study. The info is quite interesting if you can block out the drawings. (Abused by a penguin in a former life, were you?)

      I’m sorry to hear about your relatives – but it might help to know that writing appears to be neuroprotective as well (those nuns all kept journals, btw – a bit more info coming up on that). Your clever metaphors etc. are what is known as “high-density” writing – which seems to best predict healthy brain aging.


      Liked by 1 person

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