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Tue, Mar 17 7:00am · Where You Live Can Influence The Size Of Your Brain! in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

brain neighborhood pic

Your neighborhood is an important place – it’s where your home is, of course, but also likely a source of socialization opportunities and a factor in where you shop, dine out, get your healthcare, etc. A recent study published in JAMA Neurology in January, 2020 found that your neighborhood can also play a role in the actual size of your brain, as well as the size of a very important structure called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is essentially your memory storage center; without it, you would not be able to form new memories about things that happen, people you meet, and what you do in a given day. The hippocampus is also typically one of the first brain regions to be affected by the tau tangles in Alzheimer’s disease. This is why memory loss usually occurs as an early symptom for many people.

The study involved looking at about 950 cognitively normal individuals living in Wisconsin with a family history of dementia who were part of the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP) or the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The researchers created an index of how “disadvantaged” a neighborhood was (i.e. the poverty, educational level, income level, employment, and infrastructure within a geographic region), and also looked at cardiovascular disease risk. They then looked at magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) pictures of the brain for each individual to see if there was any relationship between the socioeconomic standing of people’s neighborhood and brain volumes.

The results found that people who lived in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods had approximately 4% lower hippocampal volume and 2% lower total brain tissue volume. This was true even after the researchers accounted for educational attainment, individual socioeconomic status, age, race/ethnicity, and sex. When cardiovascular risk factors were considered, these explained total brain volume differences, but could not account for the relationship between neighborhood and hippocampal volume.

Overall, the authors concluded that living in a very disadvantaged neighborhood is a separate risk factor for lower brain volumes. They speculated that there is an effect of the type of immediate community one lives in on overall brain volume during the aging process, especially on that critical memory storage area (the hippocampus). The broader implication of a study like this, that looks at how our environment affects our health, is to help to know where to target policies and interventions to try to improve overall health.

To talk with others about brain-related topics, join the discussions in the Connect Brain & Nervous System group. 

What sort of community interventions can you think of that might help improve the quality of disadvantaged neighborhoods?


Tue, Jan 7 7:00am · Making a New Year’s Resolution? Here’s How to Keep a Promise to You! in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)


Happy New Year! I hope 2020 is off to a peaceful start for you after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. An age old tradition at the start of a new year is to reflect on the previous year and consider any changes one would like to make in the coming months. The “New Year’s Resolution” is essentially a promise to yourself to make a change for the better, which often is a commitment to start a new habit in the name of wellness.

The HABIT© Healthy Action to Benefit Independence in Thinking program staff is experienced in helping people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and their support partners make healthy lifestyle changes in a way that is likely to stick. We work with people to come up with ideas for how to get into the habit of getting regular physical exercise, cognitive exercise, coping with stress, incorporating aspects of the MIND or Mediterranean Diets (more on this below!), and get a better night’s sleep.

In embarking on ANY lifestyle change, your mantra should be “slow and steady makes the habit.” One of the most common pitfalls people looking to make a new year’s resolution make is changing too much, too fast. We wrote about how to use a slow and steady approach to getting physical exercise a few months ago. For other changes, you can follow a similar approach.

  • Identify the broad goal or change you want to make. For example, “eat healthier.”
  • Break this big idea down into specific, clear goals that are small and manageable. You can always build on these after establishing success with the initial changes. So, you could look at a Mediterranean Diet guide and choose 2 changes to make that seem reasonable and appealing. (For example, Eat nuts 3 times per week, eat fish 2 times per week).
  • Using a calendar/planner/journal, write down and schedule your goals for the coming months. (On Friday, January 10th, you might write – “make grilled salmon for dinner”, On Saturday, January 11th, you could pencil in “eat almonds for a snack”, and so on, making sure you hit the weekly targets you set)
  • Plan ahead for any preparatory tasks you need to do to be successful. In our nutrition example, you’d need to schedule in grocery shopping for the items you want to consume, and may need to schedule the task of looking up a recipe for that grilled salmon.
  • Check off the tasks you complete, and review your progress at the end of the month so you can remember what you’ve accomplished.
  • Set new goals or write in a continuation of the previous goals before the next month begins.
  • Be sure to give yourself credit (even just verbally acknowledging to yourself can help) for the progress you make!

If you’d like to connect with others looking to build new wellness habits, please check out the Mayo Clinic Connect Healthy Living group.

Comment below on your goals for the New Year!


Dec 3, 2019 · Patient Spotlight: Chris and Bill in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

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Thanks to our HABIT Alumni Chris and Bill for sharing their story with us this week!

Our journey with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) started in 2017. It began when I noticed that Bill would forget conversations or plans that we had made. My background is in nursing, specifically working with people with dementia. An assessment revealed that Bill had MCI. We were in shock. I was angry and frightened of the future. In my imagination Bill’s condition progressed instantly to a time when he would need to transfer to a supervised dementia unit. Bill’s reaction was a fear of loss of control. Bill is a very bright and independent guy.

The first feeling of hope came when Bill began to take the medicine Aricept. We hoped that the medicine could slow down the progress of the disease. We began watching closely. Bill realized that he was still himself.  The diagnosis did not change him.  He would say “I’m still me.”

We both began to realize that we needed to take one day at a time. We became grateful for what we have. We began joking about his forgetfulness. We were smart enough to realize that I needed to learn about our finances. We completed our estate planning.

With all this positive occurring, I still had, in the back of my mind, the fear of the future. Would Bill need to live somewhere to get special help? How much time did we have left?

In October of this year we attended Mayo Clinic’s HABIT Healthy Action to Benefit Independence in Thinking  program in the La Crosse, Wisconsin area. We weren’t sure what we had gotten into. We knew that it was long, lasting two weeks. What about dementia could take two weeks to learn?  There was even daily homework!

On the first day of HABIT, MCI was defined. MCI does not automatically go into dementia. I just started the HABIT program and this bit of information was the best information I could receive. I began to have hope in today and in the future.

During the two weeks session we reviewed our lifestyles. Since Bill had MCI, what did we need to add or change that would help us remain happy, independent and safe? In other words, what tools would help Bill maintain his dignity?  Regular physical exercise has always been part of Bill’s life. On the other hand, when he was introduced to Brain HQ, he didn’t want to exercise his brain with “computer games.” He has since become pretty good at Brain HQ. We modified our diet to include parts of the Mediterranean diet. We were advised to think about planning for the future and to talk to our sons about where our estate plan was physically located plus making sure the boys had a complete, updated password list. Basic, important pieces of information we had not thought of doing before the program. Bill realized that he had been isolating socially. After the program he signed up for support groups, joined a group that meets weekly to talk about current issues, and, my favorite, he joined a MCI choir. With all these activities, he’s happy and busy. Thank God for the calendar.

Speaking of the calendar, it has helped Bill remain independent because he can look at his calendar and see what’s going on each day without having to ask me. For me, looking at all the activities that are scheduled, I find that sometimes I have to “unschedule” some of the events so I have time for myself. We have to continue to use the Calendar daily. It provides structure and peacefulness in our lives.

Bill has adapted the calendar to meet his needs. There are projects that he wants to do but does not know when he wants to start them or how long the project will take. He plans to work on them gradually. He does not want to forget to do them.  In the back of each monthly section he has added to the notes a category entitled “Stuff to Be Done.” These projects can be forwarded to the next month if not completed during the current month.

Being part of the partner’s alumni group on Clinic Connect has become a place where I can vent, seek advice and know that Bill and I are not the only ones who are living with MCI. Bill and I hope that other families do not have to experience MCI. If you or someone you love is diagnosed, remember that the world is not coming to an end. There are ways to work with MCI and not against it.  Paraphrasing on of Mr. Rogers quotes, “If a problem can be mentioned, it can be managed.”

Bill and I continue our journey.  We are simplifying our lives and ask for help from others. We are blessed to have the HABIT Program and you as our friends walking along with us.

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While the partners’ alumni group on Mayo Clinic Connect is private to those who have completed the HABIT Program, a general dementia on-line support group can be found at Caregivers: Dementia.


Nov 19, 2019 · Recipe: Basil Pesto Orzo in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)


As the weather turns cooler, many of us find ourselves gravitating toward warm, cozy dishes such as pasta. Pesto is a great topping for whole grain pasta, with lots of brain-healthy olive oil as the star ingredient.

This dish was served at one of our recent HABIT sessions. Chef John Kessler of the La Crosse Country Club in Onalaska, Wisconsin, was kind enough to share his recipe with us. boosts the nutritional profile with lots of yummy roasted veggies, making this a complete meal in one bowl.

Bon Appetite!

Basil Pesto Orzo Recipe

  • 1 cup orzo
  • 3 tbsp pesto, bought or homemade (recipe below)
  • 2 cups roasted vegetables: zucchini, yellow squash, sundried tomatoes, onions, all work great as well as many others (spinach, kale, or other leafy greens can also be added at the end)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (or 2 tbsp)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • splash of lemon from one lemon
  • Garnish: goat cheese, feta or Parmesan cheese


  • ROAST VEGETABLES: Cut vegetables into bite size pieces and toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes or until tender.
  • BOIL ORZO: In a medium pot, bring water with a tablespoon of salt to a boil. Add orzo and boil for about 10 minutes until orzo is al dente. Drain and put into large bowl or pot.
  • Basil Pesto Recipe: Process in food processor until smooth: 1 cup packed Basil leaves, 1/4 grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1/4 olive oil. (makes 1/2 cup)
  • In a large bowl or pot place the orzo and mix in pesto. Add vegetables and gently mix or place orzo on plate or bowl and top with vegetables. Grilled chicken breast or proteins can be added as well.


Oct 29, 2019 · Getting Started with Exercising: Slow and Steady Makes a Habit in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

fall couple walking

Awhile back, we featured a post by HABIT staff member Maria Caselli (@mariacaselli), on the updated physical activity guidelines for older adults (check it out here if you missed it). Her post was a great reminder that we don’t have to do all of our daily exercise minutes all at the same time. Short bursts of activity count, too. This information is wonderful, especially, if you’re someone who is looking to increase your physical activity by several minutes per day. But what if you’re not doing ANY minutes of physical exercise at this point? Well, read on, because this post is for you!

When making a new habit, such as exercising for the first time (or the first time in a long time), many of us fall victim to doing too much, too fast. We say to ourselves, “today I’m going to go for a jog.” We go for that jog, gung ho, and feel proud. Unfortunately the next day we feel more sore than proud, and going for another run doesn’t sound so appealing. We feel like we have “failed” at starting an exercise routine. That sense of failure makes us less likely to try again. Sound familiar?

Psychologists know that the best way to make a change is often by doing so in a gradual fashion using clear goals. The goals should be EASY TO ACHIEVE. In the beginning, I mean really easy. So easy that it seems ridiculous to not meet the goal. For example, let’s say your goal is to walk briskly 150 minutes per week. You currently walk briskly 0 minutes per week. Of course, be sure to check with your primary care doctor and get their okay before starting a new exercise plan.

Here’s what a sample plan looks like:

Week 1: Walk (inside or outside) for 5 minutes M/W/F.

Week 2: Walk (inside or outside) for 7 minutes M/W/F.

Week 3: Add 3 minutes to each walk (10 minutes per day).

Week 4: Add 5 minutes to each walk (15 minutes per day).

Week 5: Add 5 minutes to each walk (20 minutes per day).

Week 6: Add one more day of walking, but only for 10 minutes (20 minutes per day/M/W/F and 10 minutes on Saturday)

Week 7: Increase your Saturday walk to 20 minutes (20 minutes per day/4 days per week)

Week 8: Add 5 minutes to each walk (25 minutes per day/ 4 days per week)

See how you went from 0 minutes per week to 15 minutes per week and ended up at 100 minutes per week?! If you keep adding a few minutes each week, before long, you’ll be at your target of 150 minutes per week. And you’ll have gotten there in a way that set you up to be successful and made it less likely that you’d get injured along the way.

This technique can be used to make other behavioral changes as well, such as adding new foods to your diet (or cutting back on those that are less healthy).

Connect with others who are making changes toward a healthier lifestyle in the Mayo Clinic Connect Healthy Living group.

Comment below if you’re feeling inspired to get started on an exercise routine of your own!

Oct 25, 2019 · Appreciation from (and to) A Recent Graduate in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Hi @leslon, I am the director for the Midwest HABIT program. I am afraid the person you spoke to did not have all of the information. The program is not cancelled in the Midwest, in fact today was the last day of our October session here in La Crosse, WI. We have not set dates for 2020 sessions yet, due to needing to identify a reliable space where we can hold the program. If you would like to be on our waiting list for 2020, please reach out to @mirandamorris. Thank you!

Jul 2, 2019 · Summertime Mediterranean Diet Recipes in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

grilled salmon

As you prepare to celebrate Independence Day, many of you may be planning on hosting or attending a social gathering involving the grill! Barbecues or cook-outs are part of the summer social scene for many of us, and while they are more often associated with burgers and hot dogs than salmon and veggies, there’s no reason you can’t make the menu delicious AND healthy.  As we have mentioned in past blog posts, the Mediterranean Diet is a style of eating that has shown benefits to the health of the brain. It seems like it’s about time we shared a couple of new recipes to get your summer off to a good start. The following recipes come from the Mayo Clinic Healthy Recipes website.

This easy recipe for Mediterranean Style Grilled Salmon is a great main dish that could be featured at your next barbecue.


  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 salmon fillets, each 5 ounces
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 4 green olives, chopped
  • 4 thin slices lemon

Attending a potluck style barbecue? Consider bringing this Bean Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette. Chances are good that others will appreciate the healthy option to balance out their plate!


For the vinaigrette:

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 6 lettuce leaves
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped

Hopefully these recipes are just a jumping off point for you to get excited about ways to make your summer eating give your brain the nutrients it needs.

Give these recipes a try and post below to let us know how you liked them!


Jun 26, 2019 · Repost: How Big was that Fish? in Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

@dorisena – good tip on avoiding becoming engaged in an argument and learning to "step away" in those situations. Sounds like you've encountered more than your fair share of challenging caregiving situations. Thank you for sharing your experiences with others!