How the power of positive thinking could boost cognitive health

Apr 14, 2023
Experimental studies conducted with older individuals have shown that having positive beliefs about ageing could possibly assist in the recovery of cognitive function. Source: Getty Images.

According to a recent study by Yale School of Public Health, older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a common type of memory loss, were 30 per cent more likely to regain normal cognition if they held positive beliefs about ageing.

In contrast, those who held negative beliefs were less likely to recover. The Role of Positive Age Beliefs in Recovery From Mild Cognitive Impairment Among Older Persons study also revealed that individuals with positive beliefs were able to recover their cognition up to two years earlier than those with negative beliefs, regardless of the severity of their MCI.

Professor of public health and of psychology and lead author of the study, Becca Levy explained that prior experimental studies with older individuals revealed that positive age beliefs could potentially aid in cognitive recovery.

She hypothesised that this is because such beliefs have been observed to mitigate stress triggered by cognitive challenges, increase self-confidence regarding cognitive abilities, and enhance cognitive performance.

“Most people assume there is no recovery from MCI, but in fact half of those who have it do recover,” Levy said.

“Little is known about why some recover while others don’t. That’s why we looked at positive age beliefs, to see if they would help provide an answer.

“Our previous research has demonstrated that age beliefs can be modified; therefore, age-belief interventions at the individual and societal levels could increase the number of people who experience cognitive recovery.”

In order to test this hypothesis, researchers recruited 1,716 participants from the Health and Retirement Study, a national longitudinal survey, with an average age of 78 years who either had MCI or normal cognition at the study’s commencement.

The participants were then divided into two groups based on their responses to a positive age-belief measure, which included agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as “the older I get, the more useless I feel.”

After analysing the data, the scientists observed that older adults in the positive age-belief group who had MCI at the study’s onset were 30.2 per cent more likely to recover from cognitive impairment compared to those in the negative belief group. This effect was independent of MCI severity.

Furthermore, individuals without MCI at the study’s commencement who had positive age beliefs were significantly less likely to develop the condition over the following 12 years.

While Levy’s study examined the power of positivity and its impact on cognition, research from the Australian National University (ANU) Neuroimaging and Brain Lab recently discovered that consuming more magnesium-rich foods, such as nuts and spinach, in our daily diet can lead to better brain health as we age.

This increase in magnesium intake may also lower the risk of dementia, which is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the seventh worldwide.

In a study conducted on over 6,000 cognitively healthy participants in the United Kingdom between the ages of 40 and 73, researchers found that individuals who consumed over 550 milligrams of magnesium daily had a brain age that was approximately one year younger by the time they reached 55, compared to those with a normal magnesium intake of around 350 milligrams a day.

Lead author and PhD researcher Khawlah Alateeq, from ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said the study “shows a 41 per cent increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage, which is associated with better cognitive function and lower risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life”.

“This research highlights the potential benefits of a diet high in magnesium and the role it plays in promoting good brain health,” Alateeq said.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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