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Positive ageing may reduce dementia risk

By
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
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8th February 2018 – Older people who don't see ageing as a negative may have a reduced risk of dementia, according to a study.
A 4 year US 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, who led the research, believes it makes the case for introducing public health campaigns against ageism and negative age beliefs.

Study

The researchers studied 4,765 people with an average age of 72, who were free of dementia at the start of the study.

Twenty-six percent of the participants were carriers of the APOE4 gene. Not everyone with this gene variant develops dementia but 47% do.

Becca Levy and colleagues investigated whether culture-based age beliefs could be one reason why the other 53% don't develop symptoms of dementia.

Those taking part were asked to rate their attitude to ageing, from strongly disagree to strongly agree, on a number of questions, such as: 'The older I get, the more useless I feel.'

Findings

Over the 4-year study the researchers found that overall, older adults from a culture with positive beliefs about age were less likely to develop dementia than those who had negative beliefs, a 2.6% risk compared to 4.61%.

APOE4 carriers with positive beliefs about ageing had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, compared to a 6.14% risk for those with negative beliefs about ageing.

The researchers believe this may be down to positivity reducing stress levels.

The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Reaction to study

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's charity director, comments in an emailed statement: "Age UK's research into wellbeing in later life found that quite a lot of the differences between individuals were down to 'personality', with a positive outlook apparently helping older people to be more resilient in the face of adversity, enabling them to sustain greater levels of wellbeing, even when times were tough. This new research appears to substantiate the idea."

However, she acknowledges being a 'glass-half-full' personality isn't always easy: "To some extent we can all act on messages like these but we also need to be realistic and recognise that it is considerably easier to be positive, outgoing and engaged in the world around us if you are in good mental and physical health, financially secure, and well supported by family and friends, than if none of these things are in place."

Dr Sara Imarisio, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, comments: "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.

"Biological, social and psychological factors can all play a role in our overall health so it is important that researchers take a broad view when investigating approaches to help people maintain health and independence in later life."

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