Find a silver lining in the fog
A positive attitude could cut the risk of dementia in half, new research suggests
Having a positive attitude towards ageing could halve the risk of dementia, research suggests.
The study showed that older people who have positive beliefs about old age are far less likely to develop dementia. The “protective” effect was found for all the participants, as well as among those carrying a gene that puts them at greater risk of developing dementia.
The study is the first to examine whether culture-based age beliefs influence the risk of developing dementia among older people, including those who carry the high-risk gene variant.
“We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia. This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism, which is a source of negative age beliefs,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health in the US.
There are more than 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, which is now Britain’s largest killer.
Levy and her colleagues studied 4,765 people, with an average age of 72, who were free of dementia at the start of the study.The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, showed that older people with positive age beliefs who carry one of the strongest risk factors for developing dementia — the E4 variant of the APOE gene — were nearly 50% less likely to develop the disease than their peers who held negative beliefs about getting older.
Just over one in four of the participants was a carrier of the genetic variant.Those with positive beliefs about ageing had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, compared with a 6.1% risk for those with negative beliefs about ageing, over the four-year study period.
Previous research by Levy and her colleagues has shown that positive age beliefs can be strengthened.
Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said more research was needed into the matter of attitude.
“A few studies suggest a link between psychological factors and brain health, but it can be very difficult to untangle cause and effect in these relationships. We know that some of the early changes associated with dementia can happen over a decade before symptoms show and, while the researchers tried to take this into account, it’s possible these early changes could be having a negative impact on people’s views about getting older,” she said.
The charity said that staying mentally and physically active, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, drinking in moderation and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check could all help to support brain health.
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