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Negative thoughts about ageing can trigger dementia

08-Dec-15
Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

People who think negatively about growing old are more likely to suffer brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, say academics at Yale.

Those with more negative beliefs about ageing had a greater decline in the volume of their brain’s hippocampus which is also an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

'I think, therefore I am’ the famous words of Descartes, is born out in a study by academics at Yale School of Public Health, which found individuals who internalize society’s negative views about ageing, can have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and of psychology, said: “We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about ageing that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes.”

The study suggests that eradicating all negative beliefs about growing old, including views such as 'older people are decrepit', could help reduce the rate of Alzheimer’s disease.

"Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realise that these negative beliefs about ageing can be mitigated and positive beliefs about ageing can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”

Researchers looked at the MRI scans of 158 who had their brains scanned once a year for 10 years in the US’ longest running study of ageing (Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing). The individuals were asked how much they agreed with negative statements about growing old.

The study found those with more negative beliefs about ageing had a greater decline over the 10 year period in the volume of their brain’s hippocampus (critical to memory), which is also an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain autopsies on people who had died were also undertaken to look at two other indicators of Alzheimer’s Disease- amyloid plaques (toxic protein clusters that build up in brain cells) and neurofibrillary tangles (which build up between brain cells). Those with negative thoughts about ageing had a far higher amount of plaques and tangles.

The study’s findings have been published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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