Positive Attitude About Aging May Reverse Memory Loss

When it comes to avoiding age-related memory loss, your outlook about getting older might make a difference.

In a new study published in JAMA Network Open, people with mild cognitive impairment were 30 percent more likely to recover lost memory function when they had a positive attitude about aging than when they had negative feelings about getting older.

“I think there is an assumption that people who develop mild cognitive impairment are inevitably going to get worse,” says study coauthor Becca Levy, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. “Half the people who develop mild cognitive impairment improve and regain normal cognition.”

The new study set out to explore why some people with mild cognitive impairment improve, while others do not.

Among Those Who Reversed Memory Loss, the Positive Thinkers Bounced Back Faster

Researchers examined data on about 1,700 people who were 78 years old on average with either normal cognitive function or mild cognitive impairment. All of the participants had periodic memory assessments and completed surveys about their views on aging.

People with mild cognitive impairment with a positive outlook tended to recover their memory significantly faster, with a recovery advantage of about two years, the study found.

In addition, participants with normal cognition and a positive outlook at the start of the study were significantly less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment over 12 years of follow-up.

Depression and Social Isolation May Help Drive Cognitive Decline

One limitation of the study is that there were more people with depression in the group with a negative outlook, says Dale Bredesen, MD, a professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California in Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Depression is associated with systemic inflammation, which can drive cognitive decline,” says Dr. Bredesen, who is also chief executive of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

It’s also possible that more people with negative beliefs about aging had Alzheimer’s disease, and were experiencing more noticeable challenges in their daily lives that shaped their outlook on getting old, says Andrew Budson, MD, chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System and associate director of the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“People who have a positive attitude about aging have been shown to be more social and outgoing as well as more likely to take care of themselves by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, compared to those with a negative attitude about aging,” says Dr. Budson, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “These activities — socializing, exercising, and eating a healthy diet — are protective against cognitive decline.”

A Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Keep the Mind Sharp as You Age

The study results add to the evidence that staying active, eating well, and maintaining social ties to your community can all help keep your brain healthy as the years pass, says Majid Fotuhi, MD PhD, an adjunct professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at George Washington University in Washington, DC, who wasn’t involved in the new study.

Doing these things can help earlier in adulthood and in middle age, even if you have a dim view of getting older, Dr. Fotuhi says.

“People who come to learn about the benefits of lifestyle modifications for improving brain functions during midlife are more likely to keep their bodies and their minds healthy as they age — regardless of their beliefs about what they may happen to them in their eighties and nineties,” Fotuhi says.

This content was originally published here.

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