New research from the Yale School of Public Health finds an association between holding negative or pessimistic beliefs about aging and the development of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain changes were studied in both live persons with MRI scans, and deceased study subjects by autopsy.
This study is the first to link the brain changes of Alzheimer’s disease to a psychosocial risk factor.
Study author Becca Levy professor of Public Health and Psychology at Yale University states, “We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes. Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”
The study suggests that part of an Alzheimer’s prevention program may involve combatting negative stereotypes about aging. If it is widely understood that having pessimistic views about the elderly may become a self fulfilling prophecy by promoting dementia, it may offer a way to slow the rapidly rising rate of Alzheimer’s disease which now affects over 5 million Americans.
Using MRI scans in living individuals, the research found that subjects who held more negative beliefs about aging showed greater shrinkage of a part of the brain crucial to memory called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is known to be smaller in Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain autopsies which were performed showed that two well established indicators Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles ,were worse in those who had by survey expressed more negative beliefs about aging. This study was published in the September issue of journal Psychology and Aging.
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