Alzheimer's epidemic tied to lack of respect for elderly and age-associated negative stereotypes

By @Guneet_B on
Alzheimer's patient
An Alzheimer's patient is seen sitting after a therapy session inside the Alzheimer foundation in Mexico City April 19, 2012. Alzheimer's is a progressive, degenerative disease that robs people of memory, reasoning and the ability to communicate. About 24 million people worldwide have the disease according to the World Health Organization. Reuters/Edgard Garrido

A new study led by a research team at the Yale School of Public Health in the US suggests that bearing negative stereotypes  about aging might put a person at a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease.

According to the researchers, thinking negative about aging introduces changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. The study suggests that eliminating negative beliefs about aging could help reduce the rate of Alzheimer's disease in a country like the United States, where the dementia epidemic affects more than 5 million people.

The study is the first of its own kind to tie risk of Alzheimer's to a cultural-based psychosocial risk factor. During the study, the researchers examined dementia-free individuals who participated in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.

A magnetic imaging resonance (MRI) scans of the participants revealed that those who had negative thoughts about aging were at a greater risk of showing a decline in the volume of their hippocampus.

The hippocampus is a part of a brain crucial to memory. Reduction or decrease in the size or volume of the hippocampus is associated with the onset of Alzheimer's disease, reports Washington Post.

In addition, the researchers also looked for the presence of two other indicators of Alzheimer's-- amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The team found that people holding negative thoughts about aging had a greater number of both the indicators, thus putting them at a greater risk of developing the disease.

"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," said lead researcher Becca Levy, in a press release.

Some of the negative thoughts considered by the researchers included notions like “old people are worthless,” “old people are absent-minded” and “old people are incapable of learning new things.”

The complete details of the study have been published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

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