Aging Well Is All About Your Attitude — Positive Beliefs May Even Reduce Dementia Risk

The process of aging is often seen as a negative experience. However, the research shows that those who have a positive attitude about aging may reduce their risk of dementia. At the very least, having a more positive outlook will improve your wellbeing and overall quality of life.

Positive Beliefs About Aging May Reduce Your Risk of Dementia

A recent study, published in PLOS ONE, examined whether culture-based beliefs about aging influenced dementia risk. This includes those who carry the high-risk gene variant, APOE ε4.

As stated by the author, one of the strongest risk factors for developing dementia is the ε4 variant of the APOE gene. However, not everyone who carries this gene will go on to develop dementia or more specifically, Alzheimer’s. Being the first of its kind, this study examined whether positive age beliefs will reduce one’s risk of dementia.

Studying 4,765 participants from the Health and Retirement Study, all of these individuals were 60 years of age or older and were dementia-free at baseline. What the researchers found, was that those who had a positive outlook on age beliefs were less likely to develop dementia. Other possible risk factors were accounted for, including diabetes, smoking, and cardiovascular disease.

Among those carrying the gene APOE ε4, those who had positive age beliefs were nearly 50 percent less likely to develop dementia in comparison to those with negative beliefs. Being a modifiable factor, this study shows that this factor may offer protection, even when individuals are older and display a high risk of dementia.

Positive Thoughts About Aging May Expand Your Lifespan

A number of past studies have focused on the association between a positive mindset and positive brain health as well as overall longevity. In one study, professor Becca Levy from the Yale School of Public Health was interested in people’s attitudes about aging during middle age.

A total of 660 individuals were asked about their self-perceptions of aging and were then followed across time. In some cases, measurements were taken up to 23 years earlier. Some participants viewed the elderly as dependent and weak, whereas others viewed the elderly as wise and experienced.

What she found, was that those who had a positive outlook on aging, lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging. Other factors such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, functional health, and loneliness were all taken into account. She concluded that self-perceptions of stigmatized groups may impact longevity.

These Effects May Be Stress-Related

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging had participants answer survey questions during their 40s. Then 25 years later, they underwent an annual MRI for up to ten years. Once again, those who had a negative view of aging were shown to display a steeper decline in the volume of their hippocampus.

Within a second Yale study, a negative attitude about aging led to more plaques and tangles in the brain. In both studies, the researchers mention the possible role of stress. When thinking about negative associations, for instance, stress is generated. Beliefs that stem from society may potentially lead to increased levels of stress and in turn, changes in the brain.

There are a number of theories that link stress to dementia. For example, stress releases the hormone known as cortisol. This can affect immune function and has also been linked to memory problems. Being closely related to depression and anxiety, this may also contribute to potential neurological changes.

Alzheimer’s, for instance, is a highly complex disease. In that sense, stress may play a key role but it is unlikely that stress is the only factor in terms of development. This connection has been verified in a number of studies and chronic stress has even been shown to alter areas of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

Successful Aging Begins with You

When it comes to aging well, your physical health is only half the battle. After all, your mindset and emotional stability directly influence your physical wellbeing. To alter your perception of aging, focus on positive relationships, greater self-compassion, improved self-awareness, welcome humor, and be willing to accept change.

In addition, it is recommended that you:

  • Remain physically active

  • Challenge your mind through reading, writing, and frequent communication

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle — sleep well, do not smoke, and manage your weight

  • Practice positive emotion exercises

  • Let the little things go

  • Never stop setting goals

  • Minimize stress

Age gracefully and remember what Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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