An interesting study discovered that if you believe growing older is a negative thing, you may be more likely to develop brain changes typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However the research, which was published in the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology and Aging, suggests that if a person shifts their thinking to more positive feelings on aging; it could actually help to mitigate the damages of Alzheimer’s.
Becca Levy, an associate professor of public health and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health and the study’s leader said, “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,” She goes on to explain that while the findings are concerning, “it is encouraging to realize 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.”
The study examined several negative views such as the belief that elderly people are sickly and have little to contribute. Positive beliefs included thinking that older people can lead vibrant lives and be engaged in society. Other types of negative beliefs included ideas such as elderly people cannot concentrate well and are absent-minded.
All of the participants were a part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which is a long-term study out of Baltimore. The first part of the study was conducted with 52 men and women who answered surveys about their opinions on aging. Participants were also given regular MRI brain scans to check for signs of Alzheimer’s. Those who answered questions about aging more negatively were found to have a “greater decline in the volume of the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for memory.” This is important as “the hippocampus is one of the first areas of the brain to shrink in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
The other component of the study was to conduct brain autopsies on 74 participants who had died. Researchers found that the brains of those who had held more negative beliefs about aging had more plaques and tangles in their brain, which is a sign of Alzheimer’s.
The findings suggest to researchers that the U.S.’s negative view on aging as compared to other countries such as India, where it is seen more favorably, could contribute to Alzheimer’s being five times more prevalent in America. Of course positive thinking is no guarantee for good brain health but it sure makes us feel better.
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Sources:alzinfo.org/articles/research/negative-beliefs-about-aging-could-prime-the-brain-for-alzheimers/ Becca R. Levy, Martin D. Slade, Luigi Ferrucci, et al: “A Culture-Brain Link: Negative Age Stereotypes Predict Alzheimer’s-Disease Biomarkers.” Psychology and Aging, 12/2015