Thinking positively about age could literally save you from developing dementia
I know, it sounds like a hokey proverb that you find hanging up on a plaque inside an antiquated cottage home or something. But while the idea that positive thoughts wards off dementia sounds completely ludicrous, there might – weirdly enough – be some scientific evidence backing it up.
For years now, scientists have known that people who carry the e4 variant of the APOR gene have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases, with e4 being considered to be a high-risk factor. Now according to a study from researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and published in the journal PLOS ONE, there is evidence to suggest that people who have the gene variant and have negative thoughts about ageing are more likely to develop dementia than those who think positively.
The strange thing is though, whilst it’s been widely accepted that the e4 gene puts people more at risk of developing dementia, only 47% of APOR e4 carriers actually develop it. So are positive thoughts the reason why 53% don’t?
For four years, the team at Yale followed 4,765 participants with an average age of 72 and no signs of dementia at the start of the study. All of the participants had a variant of the e4 gene: 85% with the e4/e3 gene, 8% with the e4/e2 gene and 7% with the e4/e4 gene. Surveying them at the start of the study, the participants were asked to rank their agreement on statements like “the older I get, the more useless I feel”. Then, once every two years, the participants were evaluated for dementia and were tested on things like delayed recall, short-term memory and mathematical skills.
After putting the data together from the three sets of dementia evaluations, the researchers found that APOR e4 carriers who were more positive about age had a higher chance of being protected from dementia. Age-positive people only had a 2.7% risk factor, whilst those who thought negatively about age had a higher 6.1% risk. So why does that occur?
According to the researchers, it might have something to do with stress. In a major review of research released in 2016, a team from the University of Toronto looked at a number of studies on stress and anxiety in humans and found that if it’s continuous, that stress could wreak havoc on the brain.
“We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia,” said the study’s lead author, Becca Levy. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs.” That makes sense: if older people feel better about themselves and the ageing process in general, it seems they have a higher chance of warding off a steep mental decline.