Maintaining Mental Sharpness Throughout Life ~ New Study

Hi Readers, A new study conducted by Maura Boldrini and colleagues at Columbia University was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Cell Stem Cell.  Although their “participants” only numbered 28 deceased persons, the findings are significant and suggest further studies on neurogenesis, exercise, and challenging our brains with lifelong learning.  

Previous aging studies show that conversational language causes brain firing and production of new brain cells, resulting in the promotion of social engagement and deterrents to social isolation among aging experts.  Therefore, I do not concur with programs that promote solitary endeavors such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles.  Instead, I recommend a threefold approach, lifelong learning and aerobic exercise combined with maintaining close social contacts for promotion of healthy aging.   

We know that blood flow diminishes among older sedentary individuals, yet exercise contributes to maintaining brain vasculature.  Until now, it was assumed by aging and brain experts that a decline in mental sharpness in old age was correlated with diminished production of new brain cells.  This study suggests otherwise and that increased blood flow to the brain from exercise combined with lifelong learning may result in retention of mental abilities for older adults. When the 28 brains of the healthy individuals were examined, neuron production was relatively the same.  However, the aging brains had reduced blood flow to nourish those cells (Park, 2018). 

The posting below was written by Helen Thomas and copied/pasted from New Scientist.  It is an accurate summary of the study published in Cell Stem Cell.
New Scientist, April 14, 2018, NEWS and TECHNOLOGY:

PEOPLE in their 70s seem to produce just as many new neurons as teenagers. The discovery could provide clues as to how we can keep our minds sharper for longer.

In mammals, most brain cells are created at or soon after birth and aren't renewed. Recently, it was found that the human hippocampus, linked with learning and memory, produces new neurons throughout life. But this ability, called neurogenesis, was thought to plummet after middle age.

Now, Maura Boldrini at Columbia University in New York and her colleagues have analyzed the hippocampi from 28 people, aged between 14 and 79. These were examined soon after each person's death to check for the number of new neurons they contained, and other signs of neuron function and activity.

Similar numbers of new neurons were found throughout each hippocampus, regardless of a person's age. The team estimates that each person was making about 700 neurons a day when they died.

"New neuron growth has never been studied before in people who didn't have any brain disease or end-of-life stress, with tissue taken within 24 hours of death," says Boldrini. "Our results show that healthy older people can form just as many new neurons as younger people. If we know what is happening in these people to keep their neurons forming, then maybe we can use it to help others age more healthily too."

The number of new neurons may still be a lot higher in newborns and young children, says Jeff Davies at Swansea University, UK. He would be interested to see the study repeated in people who do and don't exercise. "This would provide some insight into whether the production of new neurons can be modified by environmental factors in humans to promote healthy brain aging," he says.


Park, A. (April 5, 2018).  The real reason we aren't as sharp as we age.  Time Health, (Summer 2018 print edition.)

Thomson, H. (2018). Older people still make new brain cells. New Scientist, 238(3173), 12. Retrieved from

2019 Gerontology Certificate, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology

Online Courses Offered by the American Society on Aging and the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology

The University of Southern California is home to the oldest and largest school of gerontology in the world—the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. ASA and USC have joined forces to offer an opportunity—exclusively available to ASA members—to earn a certificate of completion from USC in a convenient and flexible online format for $500 per five-week course. 

Additionally, you can earn CE credits from select accreditation providers when you successfully complete a course.  All four courses begin April 29.  For more information,
Courses include:
Understanding Abuse and Neglect
Prevention of Abuse and Neglect
Managing Health and Chronic Conditions in Older Adults
Fundamentals of Gerontology

Late Life Caregiving

Caregiving for older family members is not only rewarding, but especially challenging when the caregiver is a senior, too.  Due to older persons living longer and healthier lives, it is common for adult children in their seventies caring for their parents, adult children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  Five generations living at the same time has resulted in caregiver burnout and health declines.  Caregiving among family members who are geographically distanced can be especially challenging.  Family members want to provide and typically step forward and embrace the challenge.  However, without resources and self-care, they ultimately suffer mental and physical health declines.  The challenge is to provide care but embrace self-care to avoid burnout and exhaustion.

Long-Distance Caregiving:
“Doris” is a 75-year old retired schoolteacher caring for her 97-year old father who lives 300 miles away in rural Pennsylvania.  She and her 77 year old brother, “Todd,” each live with him for two weeks at a time and then switch off.  Todd lives 200 miles from his father.  Neither of them have had a vacation in seven years.  Doris has become obese, developed diabetes, osteoporosis, and has failing eyesight. Todd and Doris have not had time for medical care or their diagnostics.  Doris has not had a colonoscopy or mammogram.  Todd never had time for his PSA tests.  Now, he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Stage III, and is deciding on his next steps.  Both of their spouses are complaining about their lengthy absences from home.   

Alzheimer’s Caregiving:
“Tim” is a 85 and he is a retired firefighter and then retired driving the school bus.  He has been married to “Jennie” for 65 years and he promised her he would never place her in a nursing home after her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s four years ago.  Tim, her only caregiver, has not slept through the night in two years and he is exhausted caring for her.  Jennie requires constant supervision because she wanders and she has become incontinent and does not know Tim or any other family members. In addition to caring for Jenny 24/7, Tim has fallen twice during the night and is recovering from a broken wrist.  Tim will not allow anyone to care for Jennie because he thinks he is the best caregiver for his wife. 

Multi-Generational Caregiving:
“Sally” is 58 and lives in rural Mississippi. She works full-time at a bank and has a part-time hairdressing business in her home.  Her parents, Dale and Patsy, retired and bought a mobile home and moved it onto Sally’s property, an arrangement they agreed to after Dale had his second heart bypass surgery and Patsy had a small stroke.  They both have mobility challenges.  Sally has custody of her three elementary-school age grandchildren because their parents are incarcerated.  Dale and Patsy used to help care for them but now their health is failing.  Sally’s middle daughter, Joanna, was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease as a teenager and lives with Sally but requires ongoing treatment and care and she is not able to work.  Sally’s long-time boyfriend, Joe, left last year because the environment was in his description “far too chaotic for my lifestyle.”  Recently, Sally called 911 because she thought she was having a heart attack.  After numerous tests and diagnostics, the diagnosis was severe emotional stress and anxiety.  

All three of these examples are composites of actual scenarios yet and represent an array of contemporary caregiving challenges.  In all three examples, the caregivers were committed to helping their family but at the cost of their own health.  In addition to losing their freedom, they had no self-care, no social life, and no support team, resulting in isolation and physical and mental health declines.

Adult day services are typically in churches or senior centers where older adults gather for social activities, recreation, and a congregate meal.  While some of the seniors have dementia and limited physical abilities, adult day programs provide supervision and safety during normal business hours and allow caregivers to remain employed and get a break from the responsibilities of caregiving. Here is a wonderful resource

Caregivers with Medicare are allowed respite care for one week, provided the person they care for is in hospice care.  It entails moving the sick person to a residential hospice facility, a less than satisfactory solution that is often refused.  Sometimes the caregiver refuses and sometimes the loved one.  Nonetheless, it is a free option that provides at least one week of time to decompress and relax.  Here are the details.

Resources available to local readers include the following:
Limestone County- Resources are available in Athens at the Council on Aging on Jefferson Street.

Giles County- South Central Tennessee Area Agency on Aging

Madison County and Northeast Alabama – TARCOG Area Agency on Aging

Other national resources include:
Family Caregiver Alliance

Milestone Celebrations

“Youth has no age.” Pablo Picasso

A friend of mine who recently turned 65 did not want to celebrate her birthday but we all talked her into it.  While “Helen” did not want to have a party to celebrate “old age,” her friends saw this an an opportunity to acknowledge her significant achievement.  Helen told us that all she wanted to do on her birthday was stay home in her pajamas and order a meat lover’s pizza.  She did not want any attention and she was in no mood for partying.  We deferred.  And then she changed her mind!

Celebrating a landmark or milestone birthday or anniversary is an opportunity to impose order on the passage of time, make some sense of the passage of time, and celebrate both the past and the future (Stephens & Williams, 2017). Society determines what is and is not a milestone or landmark occasion.  For example, in America, it is common to celebrate birthdays at age 16, 21, 40, 50, 65, 80, and 100.  Milestone anniversaries are typically celebrated for 10, 25, 40, and 50 years of marriage. 

Milestone birthdays can also be opportunities to engage in an unusual activity such as skydiving or take up a new hobby or sport.  I read about Ginny Reed, who recently turned 70 and began her “health adventures” with hiking and running (Corrigan, 2018).  I read about Lawrence, a CPA who turned 50 and took up a new passion, foot-launched paramotoring (Corrigan, 2018). 

Milestone birthdays also provide us with social bonding, status, and prestige with lots of positive emotion from family and friends as they come together to collectively acknowledge an important achievement.  It is also a time of reminiscing and reflecting but not everyone embraces that task.  Although I adore milestone birthdays for others and myself, it is important to respect the wishes of the others and not force a party, as doing so can trigger negative emotions and feelings. 

Corrigan, P. (April 23, 2018). Confronting a milestone birthday? What 10 people did, or plan to do, when turning 50, 60, 70, 80, and 90.  Retrieved from NextAvenue

Stephens, S., & Williams, L.A. (May 17, 2017). Why milestones matter: How birthdays and anniversaries shape our lives.  Retrieved from ABC News


Give-It-Up Itis ~ Yes, It is Real

Is it real?  Yes, this is a real condition when people just give up and die. 
I first encountered this phenomenon reading the 1946 classic, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  During WWII, Frankel, who was a medical doctor and psychiatrist, was incarcerated in four concentration camps where he and other inmates observed people giving up and dying.  They were not insane and displayed no physical illnesses.  However, the pattern of shuffling gait, disconnecting with the world around them, lying down and curling up, incontinence, and lying in their own excrement meant only one thing: That man would be dead in three days.  The concentration camp prisoners saw this so often that they could predict almost to the hour when their colleague would die. They just gave up.

Recently, a friend gave me an article about Give-Up-Itis [GUI] published online in The Conversation magazine published on September 27, 2018.  A new study by researcher John Leach, published in the Journal of Medical Hypotheses on 14 June described GUI as a real medical condition known as extremis but commonly known as fatal withdrawal.  GUI most often occurs from a traumatic situation from which there is no perceived escape and the person has no control. From a historical perspective, Leach described how GUI has been documented in 16th century Jamestown records, Africans who had been captured by European slave traders, concentration camps, atomic bombings, and POW camps of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  GUI has also been documented in cases of chronic or acute severe trauma such as the case of survivors of a shipwreck who witnessed their friend giving up and dying just hours before rescue. 


1.     Social withdrawal; no motivation

2.     Apathy; disheveled and dirty; shuffling walk

3.     Loss of motivation; ceases personal hygiene; lack of speech output (empty mind)

4.     Catatonic state; stupor; ceases eating; no external responses even to pain

5.     Basic cognitive functioning intact; death

GUI is caused by frontal-subcortical circuit dysfunction which results in lack of dopamine.  In a medical setting, dopamine can be administered and the condition reversed. However, in the field, medical intervention is not available. “Motivation and goal-directed behavior are essential for coping and in the field, they could pushed into action by a leader if compelled to move around every day” to avoid accepting mental defeat (Leach, 2018, p. 18).  In his research, Leach also identified numerous examples how good people are essential to recovery.  At first paternalism and sometimes strong leadership and kind words helped victims snap out of their despair. 

The shuffling walk at Stage 2 was a key indicator to scientists that dopamine deprivation could reverse GUI.  Physical activity has been known to increase dopamine and whether forced or voluntary, activity and adopting goals was proven to be essential to survival.  Dopamine production is increased during activity and engaging in goal-oriented behaviors.  For example, daily shaving and undressing for sleep were examples of personal control and goal-oriented activity in Frankl's concentration camps.  The bottom line is that having good people around to help them get through trauma was essential to survival. 


Leach, J. (2018).  “Give-up itis” revisited: Neuropathology of extremis.  Journal of Medical Hypotheses, (120), 14-21.

The Conversation.  Give-up-itis: when people just give up and die.  Published September 27, 2018. Retrieved from

Risks and Death Facts ~ Older Adults

Risk factors:

According to the latest statistics from Our World In Data’s Global Burden of Disease Indicator (2018), the top five death risk factors among older adults worldwide are preventable and reversible conditions that are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide:

·        High blood pressure 6.35 m

·        High blood sugar [diabetes] 3.03 m

·        Smoking 2.4 m

·        High cholesterol 2.4 m

·        Obesity 2.07 m

Causes of death:

Sadly, the number one cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease and in most cases, it is a preventable condition.  The leading cause of death in older adults worldwide is cardiovascular disease with 11.11 million deaths in 2016, followed by cancer at 3.93 million.  Cancer risk factors include alcohol, carcinogenic substances, chronic inflammation, obesity, hormones, tobacco, and more, as indicated in the Cancer Prevention Overview from the NIH National Cancer Institute (2018). After cardiovascular disease and cancer, the top five causes of death in older adults are:  

·        Cardiovascular disease 11.11 m

·        Cancer 3.93 m

·        Respiratory disease 2.35 m

·        Dementia 2.23 m

·        Diabetes, blood, and endocrine diseases 1.7 m


National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute (August 13, 2018).

Worldwide Causes of Death 2016: (August 28, 2018)

Worldwide Death Risk Factors: (August 28, 2018)


Happy Birthday Helen Granier ~ Going Strong at 105

Helen Granier turned 105 on Friday and she has no idea why she’s lived so long, because for years she indulged in bad habits. Turns out the secret to her long life is partying hard.

 “I never expected to live this long,” Helen Granier of Palm Harbor told WTSP. “No one in my family ever did. I don’t know what the secret is.”

Helen celebrated her birthday at Coral Oaks Independent Living Facility last week, where she has lived for the past nine years.

She reminisced about her life and how she went against the grain in her younger days.

“I used to drink beer and I smoked and everything,” she told WTSP. “I stayed out late, you know, dancing, and then I would go to work.”

She loved to dance, but her husband prevented her from going to Las Vegas to test her luck.

“My husband wouldn’t take me to Vegas, because he knew I liked to gamble. Oh, I loved to play the slot machines,” she said. “So I went to Las Vegas after he passed.”

Some memories are clear, as if they happened yesterday, she said. Helen was only five when World War I ended, but she said she still remembered it. She does not recall getting her driver’s license, though.

“I don’t even remember when I started to drive,” she laughed.


The Week Magazine.  June 29, 2018



Successful Aging - 10 Proactive Steps

Hi Readers,
One of the questions I am asked most often is, “How can I age successfully and retain my independence?”  Although “success” is a relative term, everyone wants to attain optimum aging regardless of income, socioeconomic status, or limitations.  Is successful aging possible regardless of your circumstances?  YES! While there is no magic formula for retaining optimum health, strategies begin with living healthy and taking responsibility for making wise decisions about eating, lifestyle, social activity, and physical activity.

The Spring 2018 edition of AFA Care Quarterly included “10 Steps for Healthy Aging,” a strategy for retaining a healthy mind and body:

1.    Eat well – Although the article included guidance on fruits, meats, and vegetables, I recommend that all people age 65+ [unless directed otherwise by a physician] follow the eating guidelines detailed in the Tufts Food Pyramid. Eating well means maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding frailty, overweight, or obesity.  Eating well includes staying hydrated with at least 8 cups [64 oz.] of water daily.  Vital organs including the brain cannot work effectively when the body is dehydrated and dehydration in older adults mimics dementia.

2.    Stay active-  Walking, aerobics, and weight training are included on the AFA list.  I also recommend Silver Sneakers and Sit and Be Fit, as both programs include low-impact activity for people with physical challenges and limitations.

3.    Learn new things – Research shows that people who retain their curiosity throughout life and engage in new activities give their brains a good workout.  Remember that language is also needed to keep the brain working! 

4.    Get enough sleep – Sleep deprivation mimics dementia, a condition known as psudodementia and may lead to memory problems, falls, and driving accidents.  Daytime napping is the number one cause of insomnia.

5.    Take your medication – No one likes taking medication but the average older adult takes five prescription medications daily.  Please take your medications as prescribed and speak with your primary care physician before taking over-the-counter products.

6.    Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption – Cigarette smoking causes disease consequences including lung cancer, but COPD, cardiovascular disease,  and other chronic conditions.  Studies show that second-hand smoke impacts the health of others around you.  Alcohol may have protective factors but studies are contradictory.  Best to limit alcohol to moderate consumption.

7.    Social connectedness – Social isolation not only impairs cognitive health, but language is needed to keep the brain firing.  Retain your network of friends and stay in touch.  Talk to people and engage in conversation. 

8.    Check your blood pressure – I recommend keeping a log and check it around the same time every day.  If your physician has prescribed medication for HBP, take it!  I have encountered too many older adults who quit taking it due to negative side effects and some of them had strokes as a result.  The negative side effects typically diminish over time.

9.    Get your checkups – This includes being proactive and getting annual vaccines for flu and pneumonia.  Health screenings and diagnostic tests are now covered by Medicare.  Examples are PSA testing, mammograms, pap tests, sugar levels, and colonoscopies.  Here is a link to showing types of preventive screenings and services.


10. Get a memory screening – This is also covered now by Medicare.  If your primary care physician does not offer it, then ask for it.  These are typically administered by a social worker or case manager trained in interpreting the results.  I have administered hundreds of cognitive screenings and these are private, non-invasive assessments.  They are NOT “tests” for Alzheimer’s Disease.  As my readers know, AD cannot be diagnosed by the family physician.  The diagnosis is a result of brain imaging and other tests administered by specialists.  The overwhelming majority of older adults do NOT have AD. 

I recommend accessing or subscribing to the AFA Quarterly, published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.  Their website is 



Maintaining Mental Sharpness Throughout Life ~ New Study

Hi Readers, A new study conducted by Maura Boldrini and colleagues at Columbia University was recently published in the peer-reviewed journ...