Positive attitude towards ageing may cut chances of developing dementia, study suggests

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Elderly couple
An elderly couple looks out at the ocean as they sit on a park bench in La Jolla, California Reuters/Mike Blake

Chances of developing dementia could be lowered with a positive attitude towards ageing, a new study has found. Positive age beliefs can cut the risk of one of the most established genetic factors of dementia.

Older adults, including those who are genetically predisposed to it, are less likely to develop dementia if they possess a positive attitude towards ageing. This is according to research conducted by researchers at Yale University.

Researchers examined a group of nearly 5,000 people with an average age of 72. The participants did not have dementia by the time the study started.

For the first time ever, researchers examined whether positive age beliefs obtained from the culture may cut the risk of developing the brain condition. They learned that those who had positive beliefs about growing old had a 44 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to those who had a negative attitude about ageing.

A number of those who carry a variant of the gene APOE, which is among the strongest risk factors for dementia, never develop the condition. Researchers went on with the study to understand why this might be.

Researchers found that those who carried APOE but held positive ideas about ageing from the culture around them had a 2.7 percent risk of developing dementia. That percentage is comparatively lower than the 6.1 percent risk for those who carried the gene variant and felt grouchy about growing old.

The authors of the study said it provides proof that cultural beliefs about age may contribute to the development of dementia among older people. Lead researcher Becca Levy at the Yale School of Public Health said it makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against negative age beliefs.

"Age beliefs are something that we have shown in other studies to be malleable so I think they're a promising factor to look at," she said. Researchers have also found that people who held more positive age beliefs have lower levels of stress.

The study has been published on the journal PLOS ONE. Co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at University of New South Wales Henry Brodaty said it was "quite a significant finding,” reports the ABC. He recognised that it was a big study and that the sample has been well-studied. The next step, Brodaty said, would be to replicate the research and possibly conduct an intervention trial.