AgeWave’s Maddy Dychtwald on healthy aging for brain and body.
(29 minutes) Maddy Dychtwald is co-founder Age Wave, the world’s leader in understanding and addressing the far-reaching impacts of our aging population. Recently recognized by Forbes as one of the top fifty female futurists globally, she has been deeply involved in exploring all aspects of the age wave and how it’s transforming the marketplace, the workplace, our world, and our lives for more than 30 years. Along the way, she has become an internationally acclaimed author, public speaker, Wall Street Journal blogger, and thought leader on longevity, aging, the new retirement, and the ascent of women. Maddy has led numerous acclaimed studies on women and money, including the landmark Women, Money and Power sponsored by Allian. She is the author of three books, Cycles: How We Will Live, Work, and Buy, Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better, and the children’s/young readers’ book Gideon’s Dream: A Tale of New Beginnings. Her next book, Ageless Aging is currently being completed.
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Introducing Maddy Dychtwald
DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains and today it’s all about aging with Maddy Dychtwald from AgeWave in California. Maddy, welcome!
MADDY DYCHTWALD (MD): Thank you Hackie, it’s great to be here!
HR: Now tell us about age wave tell us what people can learn from AgeWave and what AgeWave offers.
MD: Well, I mean if people really want to know they can go to our website [laughs] which is agewave.com but basically, we have been, since the mid-1980s, been perceived as being on the cutting edge of this whole population aging and what it means for us. So, not just for us as individuals but as a society for public policy for corporations for our society at large, really. So, we’ve worked with a lot of large corporations. I was worked with a big percentage of the Fortune 500. I’m helping them better understand the mature Market, the 50 + Market, which is actually several different markets but that’s a whole other conversation. People love that 50-plus together and see what the opportunities are for them to better serve older adults. So just as an example: as you might imagine the financial services industry — they’re really interested in the whole world of retirement. They see this being a bull’s-eye for them and what we try to do is to educate them and a variety of different ways that you take their advisers and even their clients to how retirement is changing. And that you can’t look at retirement just says the number which is pretty much how retirement was looked at in the past in terms of financial services and how they can help their potential retirees. But instead to look at the entirety of retirement so to look at it in a more holistic way.
So for instance, if you’re a financial services company and you have financial advisors who work for you and your financial advisors work with clients, we try to help them better serve those clients by having them better understand what caregiving, for instance, means to someone as they get older. How does health interface with both their finances and with their life, how does family affect their finances, their caregiving opportunities and risks, as well as, you know the other kinds of challenges that they have in their life. So, we look at the whole and we try to get financial services companies who notoriously have been about the transaction, about the number, get to try to serve clients in a better way and it seems to be working really well. We do it through training, doing keynote speeches, doing all kinds of research and media launches for them to try to help them in a variety of ways fun. It’s a lot of work but it’s exciting because I feel creating a new ecosystem for these financial services companies to better understand aging what it means to be getting to be an older person in this world and how retirement and retirement planning and Financial Security fits into the whole picture of retirement.
HR: Certainly a big part of it, that’s for sure.
HR: What are your current goals now?
MD: Well I’m in the process of I just submitted a book proposal…I haven’t written a book in 10 years, literally in 10 years and part of the reason I haven’t was because you know what’s the book market today anyway. So, haven’t done that in 10 years. And I also didn’t feel like passionate about something to in order to like make that happen so you know I just ignored that world of books and focused on speaking and consulting and just enjoying life I guess [laughs]. But recently in the last couple years I’ve really gotten excited about this whole idea of ageless aging. The idea that age shouldn’t define who we are, how we live, what our experiences are and in fact that there are some things we can do so that we could build our strength and vitality and resilience and even our immunity in this time of the whole coronavirus thing. So finally, once we were in lockdown, sheltering in place, I started working on a book proposal and I finished it this week.
MD: So, I just submitted it to a literary agent and he I just heard back from him this morning because he had seen an article that I come out featuring the other day. And so, you know, he’s gonna read it this weekend and fingers crossed, who knows.
Aging and Gender
HR: Do we have a working title for your new book?
MD: Yeah, we do, we do. It’s kind of alluded to it it’s called “Ageless Aging: Five keys to strength, resilience, and vitality for women“, focusing it on women in the new normal. So, we are in a new normal. It’s gonna have to require a lot more strength, vitality, and resilience to make things happen.
HR: Tell us some of the big differences between men and women when it comes to aging and health.
MD: Well I’m focusing on the brain for one thing…first of all, we have different bodies, I mean, come on just anatomically look at us we’re different. And you know our hormones are different and hormones really, really impacts the way you’re aging the way you’re living and you know how you feel about life. So, it affects everything it also, as you know better than I do, it affects your brain. And so that’s one of the big things that are different and as you know in terms of brain health you know women are a little bit…in some ways they’re more protected because of estrogen in their bodies and in their minds but, after a certain point when they reach that lets say age 50 or 60 they become more vulnerable in certain ways. So, to heart disease for one thing but also as you probably are well aware they’re much more vulnerable to things like Alzheimer’s disease and so you know I’ve seen my grandmother, I’ve seen my mom, I’ve seen Ken’s mom all get annihilated by this horrible disease. So that’s one of the things that really inspires me and we know that women’s brains and men’s brains are really different and as you probably are well aware, most drugs are whether be for your brain or your body, are not tested on women the way they’re tested on men so you know, that’s a problem.
HR: You along with Ken are the co-founders of Age Wave.
MD: We are.
What is AgeWave?
HR: Tell us about Age Wave and how and why you started it.
MD: Well interestingly, we started it a really long time ago back in the 1980s. 1986 we started it sitting at our kitchen table literally I know I know everyone talks kitchen table businesses, but we were entrepreneurs at a time when entrepreneurialism barely existed. And we decided that we what wanted to do is to get out there and be sort of like the Paul Revere’s of aging. We wanted to tell people a different story about age and we wanted to tell them that there was this new, it’s not necessarily new, but there was some kind of aging that wasn’t well-represented either in the media or in consumer products or even in the field of aging which is a very well-meaning field. But they’re very focused on the most vulnerable of people aging. There was this cultural assumption that everybody ages is the same. Like if you’re 50 years old you’re not have difference in a 80 year olds and by the way I’m just going to lump you all together and say you’re all like over the hill. And so our point of view is like no that is not the way it is that is not the way it ought to be portrayed in the media or by consumer products and we need to change the cultural assumptions that 50 is over the hill and I think that we did a really good job of doing that. We went out and we gave keynotes to all kinds of products and service companies.
We work basically for corporations because them you can take out a megaphone and instead of reaching one or two people you can reach thousands of people at once and that was our goal was to really see how many people we could reach at one time. And we made a valiant effort and I think succeeded on many fronts to really change to a more positive image of aging and along the way we too were aging. When we started this we were in our early 30s and so we were thinking about it as a trend. Oh! There’s this big population that is moving into that second half of life and now rather than thinking of it just as a trend we’re actually experiencing it so, that’s kind of interesting all by itself. And on top of which along the way when we would go out and we would say you’re coming and it’s all good news we began to realize it’s not all good news and we started focusing on both the good news and the bad news. Both from a professional perspective, but also we got involved with organizations to try to find cures, or preventions, or even delays to Alzheimer’s disease which is an unbelievable horrible disease affecting people as they get older.
HR: And going up 178% its projected. 178% over the next 20 years or so.
MD: Yeah the numbers are scary and they’re big and you know people over the age of 80 or 85, let’s say 85, you know half of them are going to get Alzheimer’s and the other half are going to be caring for somebody with Alzheimer’s and you have that is not a pretty picture and you know there’s no cure, we know there’s no cure. There’s little scientific innovation being done there in that space. There’s not that many dollars being put against it the way it should have been there’s more now than there were 30 years ago but it’s still a dire situation and I don’t know, it scares me like crazy because as I said, my grandmother and my mother both had to cope with it and watching them go down that “I’m happy” trail was a devastating experience for me. So, I’ve taken it on as something I really care about and I get involved with organizations. I’m involved with two non-profits to try to find a cure and I’m lucky enough to know what some of the things we can do to either prevent but certainly delay the onset. I’m, you know fingers crossed, hope I never get it hope no one I know ever gets it. But I’d like to see it you know, stop not just for me and mine but for everyone.
Tools for Ageless Aging
HR: So, let’s talk about for our audience some of the tools that you feel most strongly might be of help that one ought to do to prevent or delay whatever words we want to use this process.
MD: Yeah, well you know, honestly the field and there is like this ecosystem of people and pharmaceutical companies and other kinds of Biotech companies that are really focused in this space of Alzheimer’s. So, it’s not like there’s no attention being paid but again no cure, period. And then there’s some people on the fringe who are neuroscientists or even neurosurgeons an such who have come up with protocols if you will and they’re not FDA-approved, they’re not tried-and-true, but they have tried them against certain individuals and had very good luck. And based on that information all a lot of us in the field have embraced a few things that you can do so you don’t want to be careful to couch it in you know we don’t know for sure but it seems to really make a difference and these things these tools as you refer to them are really lifestyle adjustments and now, it’s not rocket science but there are some things you can do. So, for instance, we know that exercise is good for the body but it’s also good for the brain and we have to remember that the brain also is a muscle and that it can grow or it can shrink and one of the things that happens with Alzheimer’s is the brain kind of shrinks and anyway you don’t want it to happen. And exercise actually does help so just doing something, anything! 30 minutes a day is going to be something that could…that’s a valuable tool just to use your language.
Second, diet really makes a difference. And again, what’s good for the body is also good for the mind. But there’s a little bit of specificity here I you want to…the worst thing you could do is put sugar in your body so, no sugar. Sugar actually destroys brain cells so you want to avoid sugar I mostly avoid it. It’s hard to completely avoid it as you know it’s almost impossible and I mean there’s something, we all kind of love sugar but I drink wine and wine obviously has sugar in it. So that’s my one exception [laughs] but other than that I try to stay pretty clean in the world of sugar and I use Stevia instead but you know, lots of fruits and vegetables. They say and when I say “they” I mean the experts, the physicians who are focused in this area, they suggest getting into a mild state of ketosis. Not you know, not a keto diet per se, but a mild state of ketosis is actually beneficial. So, you have got lots of fruits and vegetables as plant based as possible little bit of protein but you know that’s really good for you.
Meditation I mean, everybody is talking about especially when we’re all staying at home now we have time. So, we oughta add some kind of mindfulness practice into our lives. It makes a difference you’ll probably sleep better at night and you’ll probably manage your moods better as well. So, you know that’s a positive thing all around. In addition to which as you probably might guess if you didn’t already, is sleep is a big deal when it comes to managing…or preventing I guess I should say preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. You know they say 7 to 8 hours and I think that’s the goal I mean that’s what you want to do and you want to do it without taking sleeping pills, without waking up a million times in the middle of the night, but you know that’s what our brains repair itself. Our brain repairs itself at night while we’re sleeping and you want that repair to take place. So, there’s just a few things.
HR: Well, you know when I was one time I was giving a keynote down at the AspenBrainLab at the Aspen Institute. And I said look, I’m the least qualified person up here but you heard the people from one University got a grant did a great paper on how a plant-based mediterranean-style diet was good for their Autism patients. And even you hear later from another university, they got a grant and they did a great study on how was good and you know kind of pre-Alzheimer’s cognitive impairment kind of patients.
MD: Yeah, yeah.
HR: Guess what: it’s good for all of our brains no matter what your neurodiversity is really if you have ADHD…
MD: Yeah for sure
HR: …dyslexia, anything and it’s also good for your heart and for your brain and for preventing cancer and all of the above and yet, we have to go through these things and we don’t…we as I’m talking we generically we as a society, we won’t do it. You know we won’t eat right, we won’t exercise even though all it takes is a 1/2 hour of moving around.
HR: We don’t do this we don’t do that we don’t…and it’s a conundrum because the things you’ve said and outlined are so commonsensical and…
MD: They are. I agree. Yeah there are by the way there’s some supplements you can also take the just focusing on what you just said I think it’s a really interesting point because culturally you know in our culture we have created an environment or an ecosystem where you know fast food is better than slow food. That’s you know that’s not necessarily a good thing. I mean it’s better to eat a big steak than to have like broccoli and cauliflower. I mean maybe there’s I mean there are some creative ways to make broccoli that taste kind of awesome [laughs] and you know I’ve certainly been discovering them over the last eight weeks in lockdown [laughs].
HR: Food is a big, big deal exercise is a big deal. Mindfulness and meditation is just you can do it as little as five or 10 minutes a day if you really want. Now let’s talk about some of the supplements you feel are good for you.
MD: You know I said sugar is like a no, no but there’s a diet out there that I am a big advocate of and that’s an anti-inflammatory diet. And there’s only three things you have to eliminate and it’s so it’s pretty simple and I was explaining it to somebody yesterday who called me for advice on this very subject. And she found a million reasons why this was too hard to do. So no sugar which she found okay I could do that probably I think that’s the hardest thing to do but she also you know the other thing there were two other elements that I mentioned to her, 1 no gluten. Now it’s not that gluten is inherently bad for you it’s just the way it’s processed today in our modern cultures it’s not good for you. I mean it’s just not good for you and third… so no gluten no sugar no Dairy. The reason why these three things are really not good for you and that they really can help by eliminating them you can help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is very simple. They cause inflammation and inflammation either in our bodies or in our minds are like the worst thing that can happen. I mean in the body and it manifests as heart disease it manifests as arthritis, diabetes. In our brain it’s kills brain cells and we don’t want to do that so it’s because in our culture just going out to dinner and I love going out to dinner most people say all that’s way too hard! But you know what it’s not I mean I just when I go out to dinner I just say hey look I don’t eat this what’s gluten-free and in Europe they give you a actual menu that points out what’s what has gluten What has sugar what has Dairy.
HR: Maddy, tell our audience about supplements that are helpful.
MD: Okay so, first I would like to preface this by the fact that the best thing you could do is recognize the fact that there’s a certain amount of customization that goes into creating a supplement program and you know, people should work with their doctors. And if they have a functional medicine doctor that they work with you know they…that functional medicine doctor would do all kinds of tests and figure what you need. But just as a couple of examples, everybody could use some C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant it’s awesome there’s no harm that it can do because it’s water-soluble and so yeah, add C to your life [laughs]. There’s no question about it. I think that there are certain supplements [laughs] that are anti-inflammatory and I would suggest focusing in on some of those. For instance, turmeric or turmeric whichever way you say it we know that that’s an anti-inflammatory. So sure, put it on all your food but you need to have larger quantities of it than just what you might put on your food. So take a turmeric supplement. It’s not going to hurt you in any way shape or form and they, the experts, say that it’s going to help you. There are other things, you know they say that NAD, I don’t wanna do a commercial for NAD, but you know they say that you know they call that the anti-aging pill. So, you know maybe that would be of help. I mean I know that’s for me right now with this COVID-19 pandemic going on that I started taking NAC because it strengthens your whole respiratory system. And it’s also good for your brain. I mean there’s so many things that’s good both for your brain and your body. And now if you want to list I can send you a whole list but I would urge you to really and then listeners and viewers to delve into what it’s what you need. Just as one example, I can’t take melatonin. It actually wakes me up instead of putting me to sleep.
MD: But if you can’t sleep there’s nothing better than taking some melatonin. It can really help correct some of your sleep disorder. So, I would strongly urge that. I actually need something to help me keep my moods positive. So, exercise is my biggest medicine for that. But I also take SAM-e because it’s great for your brain and it also really good for your moods and managing stress. So, you know there’s there’s so many different things that you can do to take care of your body and your mind and I think that’s the most important thing is recognizing that they’re both very interconnected. And there’s just one other thing that I didn’t touch on that during this whole coronavirus pandemic it’s really important for us to think about and that is his whole idea of social isolation. And social isolation it’s not good for us. I mean it’s really not good for us. I mean I’m sure you’ve seen the stats that the suicide rate and the depression rates have gone up this whole pandemic and that’s alarming and they say that happiness and interacting with other people actually can help grow gray matter in your brain. That’s what you want to have happen, so.
HR: Well, socialization and strong social relationships out of all the factors are the most underrated.
MD: I agree.
HR: And in fact, when Harvard did a 75-year longitudinal study which is a long time to identify those factors in families and individuals. They followed for three-quarters of a century. They thought it was…what was gonna affect the longevity health and happiness the most was their overall health was things like you know genetics with cancer and heart disease and stuff.
HR: But what blew everything out of the water was strong social relationships by like 20 years in longevity and then you talk about Alzheimer’s rates and everything else. And in our society, you said it so well, we are not meant to be isolated, we’re just not. And your body secretes different things like when you hug somebody and the oxytocin and everything gets going and you can’t duplicate it.
MD: Yeah so you know yeah, we need to socially distance during this pandemic. But we also we can strengthen ourselves and create some resiliency. Then you know, have a safe group of people that we can interact with and hug and you know show our affection and love and whatever. I think that that makes a really positive impact on your health.
The Biggest Misconception About Aging
HR: Maddy what’s the biggest misconception people have about aging.
MD: There are so many misconceptions about aging. But the biggest one that comes to my mind is that it’s the same for everyone. I think that this whole idea that aging is a one-size-fits-all it’s just not true. There are different flavors some people age incredibly well. I seen a lot of 80-year old who seem more fit more vital than 35, 40 year olds. And by the way their thinking is not only clearer but more creative and more break-out of the box. Where as, I’ve seen a lot of 40-year old who seem like their like 80 or 90 suffering with chronic degenerative disease, thinking in cloudy uninteresting ways and really just trying to get by and that’s sad to me. So, aging comes in different sizes and shapes and we need to know that and acknowledge it. Okay, so I think one of the biggest misconceptions about aging is that it’s one-size-fits-all. I mean people come in different sizes and shapes and flavors and aging is different for all of us each and every one of us and I would encourage you to recognize that fact and try to age as well as you can.
HR: Maddy Dychtwald, thank you so much for being with us today here at Exploring Different Brains. We hope that you’ll come back again soon!
MD: Thank you!