We all know that having a positive attitude can provide health benefits, but now fascinating new research has linked a very specific set of values with something we all want to avoid – dementia.
A study led by the Yale School of Public Health shows that those of us who hold negative beliefs about ageing are more likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study suggests that combatting negative beliefs about ageing, such as “older people are decrepit” and “older people can’t learn new things”, could potentially offer a way to reduce the rapidly rising rate of the devastating neurodegenerative disorder. It’s the first study to link brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s with a cultural-based psychosocial risk factor.
Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and of psychology at Yale, says, “We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes.”
“Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realise that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”
Study authors examined healthy, dementia-free subjects from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the nation’s longest-running scientific study of aging. Based on MRIs, the researchers found that participants who held more negative beliefs about aging showed a greater decline in the volume of the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial to memory. Reduced hippocampus volume is an indicator of Alzheimer’s.
Then researchers also studied brain autopsies and learned that the participants with more negative beliefs about ageing had a significantly greater number of plaques and neurofibrillary tangles associated with the disease.
Time magazine reports that previous human studies have shown that people with negative assumptions about ageing tend to experience more heart problems, and Associate Professor Levy has previously found an association between negative attitudes and poor memory later in life.
The message is clear: think positively about ageing for the sake of your health!