Attitude About Aging May Affect Odds for Dementia


The new findings, published online Feb. 7 in the journal PLOS ONE, are based on 4,765 older adults who were dementia-free at the start of the study. They answered a standard set of questions that gauged their attitudes about their own aging.

For instance, they were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “The older I get, the more useless I feel.”

A question like that, Levy said, gets into not only how people feel about their own health, but how they think they fit into society.

Overall, the study found that older adults with a positive outlook were less likely to develop dementia over the next four years: 2.6 percent did, compared with 4.6 percent of those with negative views.

The difference was greater when the researchers focused on the 1,250 study participants with the APOE4 gene. In that group, 2.7 percent of positive-minded people developed dementia, compared with 6.1 percent of those with a negative outlook.

Levy’s team did account for some other factors — including participants’ memory performance at the study’s start. The researchers also factored in age, race, education levels and whether people had heart disease or diabetes.

Still, Levy said, positive beliefs were connected to a lower dementia risk.

Why would those beliefs matter?

That’s not completely clear, according to Levy. But negative views can breed chronic stress, which might contribute to dementia risk, the researchers said.

None of that means that people can “think their way” into, or out of, dementia, Fargo stressed.

“We don’t want people to think that if they have dementia, it’s because they had a negative attitude,” he said.

Similarly, he added, older adults with memory issues or other symptoms should not simply rely on positive thinking to deal with it.

“Talk to your doctor,” Fargo advised. One reason to do that, he said, is because those symptoms might have a treatable cause — such as depression or sleep apnea.

Ultimately, Fargo said, clinical trials are needed to show whether any lifestyle measures can stave off dementia.

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