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Shedding Light in the Darkness

Negative Thinking & Alzheimers

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Newly published research led by the Yale School of Public Health suggests that people who hold negative beliefs about aging are more likely to have brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study led by Becca Levy, associate professor of public health and of psychology, is the first to link the brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease to a cultural-based psychosocial risk factor. The findings were published online Dec. 7 in the journal Psychology and Aging.

“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,” said Levy. “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 authors examined healthy, dementia-free subjects from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the nation’s longest-running scientific study of aging. Based on MRIs, the researchers found that participants who held more negative beliefs about aging showed a greater decline in the volume of the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial to memory. Reduced hippocampus volume is an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

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