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Positive Thinking about Aging May Protect Against Dementia, Study Finds

08 February 2018

The researchers studied a group of 4,765 people and found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors for dementia.

A positive attitude about ageing reduces dementia risk, even in genetically predisposed people, according to global research led by Yale University. A 4 year U.S. study found the protective effect of being positive about growing older was even found in adults with the APOE4 gene which increases their chances of developing dementia symptoms. Becca Levy from the Yale School of Public Health, USA, and colleagues have published the reports of this encouraging study in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

Levy and her team focused on a cohort of 4,765 older Americans (their average age was 72) who answered five questions about their attitudes toward aging.

People without the genetic variant who held "positive" age beliefs were 44 percent less likely to develop dementia than counterparts holding "negative" age beliefs. In fact, the researchers said, a positive attitude toward aging could essentially erase the handicap associated with carrying a risky variant of the APOE gene. They were given series of questionnaires to assess their attitudes towards aging and also tested for their cognitive skills periodically. Stress could be factor she said that influences beliefs and attitudes and affects dementia risk. Among other things, they were asked to count backward from 20, to name the president and vice president and to recall a list of 10 items. Despite presence of this gene, only 47 percent actually go on to develop dementia, they write. Participants retook the test every two years. Twenty-six percent of the participants in the study were carriers of APOE E4.

Citation: Levy BR, Slade MD, Pietrzak RH, Ferrucci L (2018) Positive age beliefs protect against dementia even among elders with high-risk gene. So did 2.6 percent of the adults with positive beliefs. This was comparable to the 6.1 per cent risk of development of dementia among those who had a negative belief towards aging. "Others have found that stress can be related to the development of dementia, so, our thinking is that it's possible that stress is part of the mechanism in what we're observing in this study". "This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs".

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Positive Thinking about Aging May Protect Against Dementia, Study Finds