pessimism dementia risk hearing loss

Is pessimism about getting old a risk factor for dementia?

Pessimistic people, who worry their golden years will be filled with trials and troubles, may be causing those fears to come true. A recent study, however, suggests that fighting the negative stereotypes associated with aging could have broad benefits for public health.

The new study finds that older Americans with negative beliefs about aging were significantly more likely to develop dementia than their peers who embraced their senior years with enthusiasm and optimism.

Study participants who had positive beliefs about aging were 44% less likely to develop dementia over the next four years than were their counterparts with negative beliefs, according to researchers at the Yale School of Public Health.


Even after the researchers accounted for other risk factors for dementia — including smoking, diabetes and cardiovascular disease — they still found that the odds for developing dementia were lower among those with a positive attitude toward aging.


The researchers also concluded that the apparent benefits of a positive outlook were even greater among the subgroup of adults whose genes put them at greater risk of dementia. In fact, the researchers said, a positive attitude toward aging could essentially erase the handicap associated with carrying a risky variant of the APOE gene. (A gene known to influence the risk of developing certain types of Alzheimer disease).

The research was conducted by Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health and relied on survey results from the Health and Retirement Study–a study conducted every other year by the University of Michigan Institute of Social Research. The research was published recently at the open access journal, PLOS One

Levy and her team focused on a cohort of 4,765 older Americans (their average age was 72) who answered five questions about their attitudes toward aging. For example, study participants were asked whether they were as happy now as they were when they were younger, and whether they felt that things got better or worse with age.

Although the study had no direct connection to hearing loss, the relationship between a person’s outlook and risk of developing dementia is likely to resonant with the hearing health care community. As hearing care professionals know, pessimistic adults can be difficult to help. If, as this study suggests, helping people overcome these negative thoughts might carry over in other functional areas, including hearing.


Source: Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2018

1 Comment

  1. Active thinking does delay onset of dementia, if there are gene mutations in the family line. Negative thinking does not necessarily shorten life and cannot be a statistical conclusion. Negative thinking my lead to self isolation but dementia causes physiologic changes due to reduced neuron activity that create a stagnant pool of amyloid proteins that eventually choke these neurons. Unfortunately, drainage of amyloids is a very slow process. Pessimism is a psychological condition and probably related to life’s events and struggles. But there is no behavioral link to early death or dementias.

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