Recent evidence has indicated that a group of plant-derived compounds known as flavonoids may exert particularly powerful actions on mammalian cognition and may reverse age-related declines in memory and learning. In addition, growing evidence is also suggestive that flavonoids may delay the development of Alzheimer's disease-like pathology, suggestive of potential dietary strategies in dementia. Although these low-molecular-weight phytochemicals are absorbed to only a limited degree, they have been found to counteract age-related cognitive declines possibly via their ability to interact with the cellular and molecular architecture of the brain responsible for memory. However, the majority of the research has been carried out at rather supraphysiological concentrations and only a few studies have investigated the neuromodulatory effects of physiologically attainable flavonoid concentrations. This review will summarize the evidence for the effects of flavonoids and their metabolites in age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Mechanisms of actions will be discussed and include those activating signalling pathways critical in controlling synaptic plasticity, reducing neuroinflammation and inducing vascular effects potentially capable of causing new nerve cell growth in the hippocampus. Altogether, these processes are known to be important in maintaining optimal neuronal function, to limit neurodegeneration and to prevent or reverse age-dependent deteriorations in cognitive performance. © 2013 Society of Chemical Industry.