Positivity keeps dementia at bay finds study

Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Persons who have developed positive attitudes towards life and aging are less likely to develop dementia finds a new study. Becca Levy from the Yale School of Public Health, USA, and colleagues have published the reports of this encouraging study in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE.

Image Credit: Art Stocker
Image Credit: Art Stocker

The team explains that there is this gene called the E4 variant of the gene APOE that raises the risk of getting dementia. Despite presence of this gene, only 47 percent actually go on to develop dementia, they write. It is not clear, why the rest of the persons with this genetic makeup do not develop dementia. The team went on to look at the factors that protected half of the individuals from dementia. They included a group of 4,765 people in their study who were all aged an average of 72 years. At the beginning of the study, these individuals did not have dementia. They were given series of questionnaires to assess their attitudes towards aging and also tested for their cognitive skills periodically. However twenty six percent of the participants in the study were carriers of APOE E4 gene and at a greater risk for dementia. The study followed up the individuals for four years. “Attitude towards aging” scale was used to test their positivity or negativity towards aging process. They were given statements such as “The older I get, the more useless I feel,” and asked if they agreed or disagreed.

At the end of the study the team noted that the persons who carried the APOE E4 gene and had a positive outlook towards aging had a 2.7 per cent risk of developing dementia. This was comparable to the 6.1 per cent risk of development of dementia among those who had a negative belief towards aging. Those with a positive attitude have a 49.8 per cent lower risk of developing dementia compared to the other high risk individuals holding negative beliefs towards aging.

Lead author Becca Levy explained that “positive age beliefs” can reverse the risk of one of the most convincing genetic factors that determine risk of dementia. She added that anti-dementia campaigns should focus on adding this vital information to their movements and raise awareness regarding being positive which could protect them from dementia. In this study, she explained, other factors that influence dementia risk including age, gender, educational status, race, presence or absence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc. were also taken into account. The development of dementia and the protection from it was seen over and above these factors she said and this is significant. Stress could be factor she said that influences beliefs and attitudes and affects dementia risk. More investigation and studies would be needed to establish the causes. As of now it can be said that being positive towards aging can be protective against dementia.

Dementia affects around a quarter of the US population and one fifths of the Australian population. By the age of 85 one in three individuals have dementia in Australia.

Source:

Levy BR, Slade MD, Pietrzak RH, Ferrucci L (2018) Positive age beliefs protect against dementia even among elders with high-risk gene. PLoS ONE 13(2): e0191004. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191004

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