Ep. 104: Outsmarting Alzheimer’s – What to do now to increase your odds of successful aging and quality of life, with Kenneth Kosik, MD

Successful aging

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

What are small, enjoyable changes you can make NOW that will reduce your Alzheimer’s risk and increase your quality-of-life odds decades down the road? Author Kenneth Kosik, MD, explains what music has to do with Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk.

Kenneth Kosik, MD
Kenneth Kosik, MD


My guest today is Dr. Kenneth Kosik, author of the book Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk. Dr. Kosik is Co-Director of the Neuroscience Research Institute at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Before that, he was a professor at the Harvard Medical School. He has won numerous awards and his work has appeared in media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, and CBS 60 Minutes.


We discuss:

  • How much control do we have over our risk of Alzheimer’s? Are we at the mercy of our genetics, or are there things can we intentionally, proactively do to change our risk factor?
  • When is the best time to take action to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s? (Before the earliest symptoms surface.)
  • What are the main factors that should be considered in decreasing our risk for Alzheimer’s? Are these the same factors to consider in slowing the progression of any symptoms that may already be present?
  • Kosik’s book includes 80 simple lifestyle prescriptions to slow the progression of symptoms as much as possible and improve quality of life. Prescriptions are grouped into 6 categories, using the acronym SMARTS:
    • S=Social Smarts
    • M=Meal Smarts
    • A=Aerobic Smarts
    • R=Resilience Smarts
    • T=Train-Your-Brain Smarts
    • S=Sleep Smarts
  • In the “Train-Your-Brain” category, Prescription #1 is: Learn to play an instrument! Dr. Kosik tells us why he chose this as his #1 Prescription.
  • How do these prescriptions relate to epigenetics?
  • In determining which is better for your brain – formal brain games or hobbies that you enjoy – Dr. Kosik recommends considering these factors:
    • Does the activity transfer benefits to everyday life?
    • Does it get you out of your comfort zone?
    • Is it novel (new experience)?
    • Is it challenging?
  • What if we don’t have any musical training in our background – is it ever too late to learn, or too late to reap the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument?

Connect/Other Resources

  • Outsmarting Alzheimer’s: What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk, by Kenneth S. Kosik, MD
  • Dr. Kosik’s lab faculty profile page
  • Email kosik@lifesci.ucsb.edu
  • The Kosik Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara
  • I reference the metaphor I recently read comparing epigenetics to a piano buried deep in our body. This is the amazing book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross, who says in the book: “Just because you have a certain type of gene doesn’t mean it actually affects you. What determines who we are is whether those genes are turned on or off. One way to think about this is to imagine that your DNA is like a piano buried deep in your cells. The keys on the piano are your genes, which can be played in a variety of ways. Some keys will never be pressed. Others will be struck frequently and in steady combinations. Part of what distinguishes me from you and you from everyone else in the world is how these keys are pressed. That’s gene expression. It’s the genetic recital within your cells that plays a role in forming how your body and mind work.”
  • A related article you may enjoy: Playing an instrument, singing can help the brain defend against dementia

In-Episode Promo

This is a quick break to tell you about Sonix, the service that I use to transcribe these episodes. Sonix is an artificial intelligence transcription service that automatically converts audio and video files to text – and can translate to over 40 languages. I transcribe these episodes to make them more accessible. I tried multiple services, and chose to stick with Sonix because of their accuracy, affordability, and because their site is just so easy to use; that’s a big plus for me, to not need to spend a bunch of time figuring out one more platform! While I love podcasts, I do tend to be a very visual learner. I figure other people probably are, too; and having that written form of your work just makes it more versatile. Sonix transcripts make the most of your hard work and can increase traffic to your site. Sonix is spelled s-o-n-i-x. You can check them out with a free trial PLUS an extra 100 minutes of free transcription by using the link sonix.ai/invite/enhancelife100. There’s a link in the show notes. Again, it’s sonix.ai/invite/enhancelife100 for a free trial AND an extra 100 minutes of free transcription.


For Dr. Kosik’s work with a large family with familial Alzheimer’s disease in Colombia, South America, he invited Cristina Pato, a bagpiper from Spain, to perform and tell her story. She inter-weaved a performance on the bagpipes with an oral history of her mother who developed dementia. Dr. Kosik describes the powerful and poignant rendition that left the entire audience in tears. He notes that she often plays with Yo-Yo Ma, and her performances can be found on the Internet.

Closing Words

Thanks so much to Dr. Kosik for his book and these ways to REDUCE our risk for Alzheimer’s and INCREASE our odds of successful aging and quality of life in our future. I did remember where I recently read the metaphor of epigenetics being like a piano buried deep within us. It was in the amazing book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters and How to Harness It, by Ethan Kross (see quote above). That’s a great metaphor – and a great book. I highly recommend it. The link is in the show notes, as well as links to Dr. Kosik’s book and ways to connect more with him and his work. I want to let you know about a new feature on my website. Now that we have over 100 episodes, all on various aspects of the holistic power of music, I wanted to make it a little easier to explore certain topics, if a specific topic is of more interest to you. So in the Archives section of my website, you can still view ALL episodes by release date. You can now also view episodes by topic. They are grouped into 4 main categories:

  1. Science & Health
  2. Sports & Entertainment
  3. Education & Community
  4. Business

Just go to the website and choose Archives from the Podcast drop-down menu. Enhance Life with Music’s 2nd birthday is coming up in August! I would love to have you help us celebrate by giving us the best BD gift ever – voting to nominate us for The People’s Choice Podcast Award! Just go to and click the blue button to vote. Scroll to the Music category and select Enhance Life with Music. Voting ends July 31, 2021. A huge thank-you goes to all who have already put in their votes; your support means so much to me! As always, you’ll find a transcription of this episode in the show notes. And you’ll find me on email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. All links are on my website and in the episode details right in your podcast app. Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.

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